New research report: Four Years of Second Chance Reforms, 2013-2016

Introduction

4 year report coverSince 2013, almost every state has taken at least some steps to chip away at the negative effects of a criminal record on an individual’s ability to earn a living, access housing, education and public benefits, and otherwise fully participate in civil society.  It has not been an easy task, in part because of the volume and complexity of state and federal laws imposing collateral consequences.  To encourage employers and other decision-makers to give convicted individuals a fair chance, some states have enacted or modified judicial restoration mechanisms like expungement, sealing, and certificates of relief.  Others have extended nondiscrimination laws, limited criminal record inquiries, and facilitated front-end opportunities to avoid conviction.

In partnership with the NACDL Restoration of Rights Project, the CCRC maintains a comprehensive and current state-by-state guide to mechanisms for restoration of rights and status after conviction.  As a part of keeping that resource up to date, we have inventoried measures enacted and policies adopted by states in the past four years to mitigate or avoid the disabling effects of a criminal record, and present it here as a snapshot of an encouraging national trend.

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What (if anything) does the Virginia voting rights decision tell us about the president’s pardon power?

On July 22, 2016, the Virginia Supreme Court struck down a series of executive orders issued by Governor Terry McAuliffe restoring voting and other civil rights to more than 200,000 convicted individuals.  See Howell v. McAuliffe (Va. 2016).  The court, in a 4-to-3 decision, disputed the governor’s assertion that his restoration power was absolute under the state’s Constitution. “We respectfully disagree,” the majority justices wrote. “The clemency power may be broad, but it is not absolute.”   Governor McAuliffe responded to the court’s action by promising to restore the vote on an individual basis to everyone affected by his orders, starting with the 13,000 who had already registered to vote.  More details of the reaction to the court’s ruling are reported here.

The Virginia court’s decision is interesting for what it may tell us about the possibility of class-wide grants of clemency, whether full pardon or sentence commutation, under the president’s pardon power. In finding limits on the governor’s restoration power under the Virginia constitution, the court relied upon two other constitutional provisions that have no analogue in the U.S. Constitution.

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NYT says NO to “the other f-word,” and YES to Gov. McAuliffe

08sun1-master768The New York Times has two great Sunday editorials on issues relating to collateral consequences.  One deals with the issue of labeling people with a criminal record, of special concern when headline writers seem unable to resist using what Bill Keller at the Marshall Project recently called “the other F-word.”  The editorial points out that ugly demeaning labels like “convict” and “felon” are “an unfair life sentence.”  Let us hope the message reaches newsrooms across the country, and that journalists (especially headline writers) will find another way of describing people with a criminal record.

The Times also has another very fine editorial on Virginia Governor McAuliffe’s restoration of the vote to more than 200,000 individuals, pointing out that his authority under the Virginia Constitution is indisputable.

A very good day for the editorial staff of the Gray Lady, whose editorial page is setting an example of enlightened thinking about criminal law issues – notably including the collateral consequences of conviction.

A plea to stop labeling people who have a criminal record

23virginia-web2-superJumbo (2)On April 22, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe issued an executive order restoring civil rights to more than 200,000 individuals once convicted of felonies.  His courageous action is welcome and long overdue, and there are now only three states nationwide that permanently disenfranchise people based on a felony conviction.  The Governor’s press release promises new restoration orders on a regular monthly basis as additional individuals become eligible — the model followed in Iowa between 2005 and 2011, when convicted individuals were restored to the franchise under a similar executive process before it was discontinued by a Republican governor.

The one sour note on an otherwise happy occasion was the pervasive use of the word “felon” in print and media accounts to describe the beneficiaries of Governor McAuliffe’s action.  This ugly stigmatizing label has been broadly criticized as counterproductive to reintegration efforts, perpetuating stereotypes about people with a criminal record and encouraging discrimination against them.  While the Governor himself was careful with his language, not a single major newspaper reporting on his action could resist including the word in its headline. Read more

Federal fair chance hiring proposal advances

The following note was received today from the National Employment Law Project:

We wanted to report back on the exciting progress in support of the federal fair chance hiring initiative, which builds on the momentum from the sign-on letter to the President that your organizations endorsed.

On March 25th, representatives from NELP, All of Us or None, PICO National Network and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice met with White House and Labor Department officials to present the letter signed by nearly 200 organizations and urge immediate federal action.  The news about the sign-on letter and the White House meeting was covered in an excellent exclusive that appeared in Politico (check it out) the day of the meeting.  The sign-on letter was also featured in an op-ed by a Florida small business owner (and a member of our partners at the Main Street Alliance) in The Guardian, in an NNPA syndicated story picked up by several news outlets, as well as in a National Law Review story.

In addition, thanks to the active engagement of your organizations, the social media around the initiative is also picking up steam. The Facebook image (attached) produced over 60,000 views, and it was shared by nearly 1,000 people.  During the one-hour “tweet storm” on the 25th, there were 250 unique tweets using the #FairChance or #BanTheBox hashtags (a special shout out goes to Danny Glover, whose tweet led the way with most retweets).  In just a few short months, we’re building a serious social media following thanks again to all of you.

Based on the feedback we received at the meetings on the 25th, all the support from your organizations, the press and the social media is getting the Administration’s attention – they have made clear that they are taking a serious look at the proposal to issue an Executive Order and Presidential Memo to extend fair chance hiring/ban the box to federal contractors and the federal hiring process.   Now, it’s all about  continuing to build the grassroots and public pressure to move the Administration to act.  Your continued active involvement is critical to the success of the effort.

On another positive note, we wanted to also share the news that Virginia Governor McAuliffe issued a strong executive order today extending fair chance hiring to all state positions (and urging the private sector to do the same).  McAuliffe’s action got the attention of Valerie Jarrett, President Obama’s Senior Advisor, who tweeted out her support using the #BantheBox hashtag.  Please take minute to retweet it as well.

Thanks again everyone for all your amazing support! We’ll be in touch soon with more details and next steps.

Best,
Maurice

Maurice Emsellem, Director
Access and Opportunity Program
National Employment Law Project
(510) 663-5700

Bedside pardon shows “soft on crime” label losing power

B70ZrUICUAAkvqfWe were struck by this recent headline: “Gov. McAuliffe makes pardon from hospital, where he will remain overnight.”   The Virginia governor was recuperating from a procedure to drain his lungs made necessary by a holiday fall from a horse, when he called reporters to his hospital room to witness a grant of “conditional pardon” (Virginia’s term for a sentence commutation) to an autistic man jailed for assaulting a police officer, to permit him to go to a secure treatment center in Florida for help rather than being warehoused for years in a Virginia prison.  It is likely that McAuliffe wanted to show himself fully able to conduct state business. But it seems significant that he chose this particular official act to make the point.

The bookend episode that immediately comes to mind is Bill Clinton’s well-publicized departure from the campaign trail in 1992 to fly home to Arkansas to sign Ricky Ray Rector’s death warrant. Rector had shot himself in the head after murdering a police officer and was effectively lobotomized — and so unable to appreciate his circumstances that he asked to save the pecan pie from his last meal for “later.”

There may be no more telling sign that the “soft of crime” label is losing its power over elected officials than McAuliffe’s decision to publicize this bedside act of mercy.

Washington Lawyers Committee releases report on collateral consequences in D.C., Maryland and Virginia

On October 22 the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs released DC.IMG_0171 (2)a report focusing on the problem of collateral consequences in the DC tri-jurisdiction region.

The report, a follow-up to an earlier WLC report on racial disparity in arrests in the District of Columbia, documents the disproportionate impact of collateral consequences on minorities, which makes them “very clearly a civil rights problem.”  For example, “although African-Americans make up less than 48% of the city’s population, over 92% of those sentenced by the DC Superior Court in 2012 were African-Americans, whose overall rate of incarceration in DC is some 19 times the rate of whites.”  It reports that nearly half of those in DC who have been incarcerated may be jobless with little prospect of finding consistent work, and that “this inability to find work is a major contributing cause of recidivism.” It illustrates the problem of collateral consequences with case studies of five area residents adversely affected by their records in finding employment and housing.

Among the report’s recommendations are that all three jurisdictions should limit the discretion of licensing boards to deny licenses based on criminal records, enact or strengthen ban-the-box laws limiting employers’ use of criminal records, and limit access by most employers to official arrest and conviction records. Respecting the effect of D.C.’s recently enacted ban-the-box law, it reports that D.C.’s Office of Human Resources found that “76% of post-law applicants for municipal jobs who had a criminal record were in fact suitable for government employment, but would likely have been disqualified from consideration for employment if the D.C. law were not in place.”  In addition, all three area jurisdictions “should review and improve their existing mechanisms for seeking individualized relief from collateral consequences, through methods like expungement or sealing of records and restoration of rights.”

The WLC press release is here.  The report is here.