The Collateral Consequences Resource Center is pleased and honored to welcome civil rights activist, community organizer, politician, and accomplished actor Sala Udin to its Board of Directors. Udin is personally familiar with the obstacles faced by those with criminal records, having had to overcome them in becoming a respected community leader and champion for justice.
Yesterday U.S. District Judge Frederic Block (E.D.N.Y.) issued an extraordinary opinion explaining his decision to impose a non-prison sentence on a young woman convicted of importing cocaine, based on the severe collateral consequences that she faces. While other federal courts have factored collateral consequences into the balancing of factors required by 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a), this is the first time a court has justified its action in such detail. Calling the opinion “groundbreaking,” CCRC board member Jack Chin told the New York Times that it is “by some distance the most careful and thorough judicial examination” of collateral consequences in sentencing: “It’s going to generate debate on a critical issue in the criminal justice system — the ability of people convicted of crimes to get on with their lives.”
Here is how the opinion begins:
Chevelle Nesbeth was convicted by a jury of importation of cocaine and possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. Her advisory guidelines sentencing range was 33-41 months. Nonetheless, I rendered a non-incarceratory sentence today in part because of a number of statutory and regulatory collateral consequences she will face as a convicted felon. I have incorporated those consequences in the balancing of the 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) factors in imposing a one-year probationary sentence.
I am writing this opinion because from my research and experience over two decades as a district judge, sufficient attention has not been paid at sentencing by me and lawyers—both prosecutors and defense counsel—as well as by the Probation Department in rendering its pre-sentence reports, to the collateral consequences facing a convicted defendant. And I believe that judges should consider such consequences in rendering a lawful sentence.
There is a broad range of collateral consequences that serve no useful function other than to further punish criminal defendants after they have completed their court-imposed sentences. Many—under both federal and state law—attach automatically upon a defendant’s conviction.
The effects of these collateral consequences can be devastating. As Professor Michelle Alexander has explained, “[m]yriad laws, rules, and regulations operate to discriminate against ex-offenders and effectively prevent their reintegration into the mainstream society and economy. These restrictions amount to a form of ‘civi[l] death’ and send the unequivocal message that ‘they’ are no longer part of ‘us.’”
Preparatory to sentencing Ms. Nesbeth, I afforded counsel the opportunity to opine as to whether collateral consequences should indeed be part of the § 3553(a) mix, and requested written submissions. The Government was essentially non-committal.
Not surprisingly, the Office of the Federal Defender—which represented Ms. Nesbeth—gave a positive response. Commendably, both parties’ submissions detailed the collateral consequences she faces.
Because of the significance which I attach to the need of the criminal justice system to embrace collateral consequences as a sentencing issue, I write extensively, addressing in turn: (I) The History of Collateral Consequences; (II) The Depth and Breadth of Post-Conviction Statutory and Regulatory Collateral Consequences; (III) The Governing Caselaw; (IV) Ms. Nesbeth’s Collateral Consequences and the Balancing of all § 3553(a) Factors; (V) The Shaping of the Sentence; and (VI) The Responsibilities of Counsel and the Probation Department.
A new empirical study provides important evidence that “certificates of recovery/relief” can be effective in facilitating employment opportunities for people with a criminal record. Two University of South Carolina criminologists have concluded that employers in Ohio are willing to look beyond the criminal histories of job applicants who have been issued a Certificate of Qualification for Employment (CQE) from a state court. The study, which involved sending fictitious resumes to over 300 employers in the Columbus area, found that individuals with a felony drug conviction were more than three times as likely to receive a job interview or offer if they had received a CQE.
Although the study’s findings are described as preliminary, they fill an important gap in our knowledge of the effectiveness of Ohio’s CQE, and by inference of similar certificate schemes in other jurisdictions. Such schemes have to date been justified on the basis of assumptions and anecdotal evidence, with little hard data to vouch for their potency. The abstract follows:
Securing stable, quality employment is one of the most robust predictors of desistance from offending. Yet, obtaining gainful employment is difficult for ex-offenders due to the stigma of a criminal record. In recognition of employment-related barriers to re-entry, some state legislatures have created certificates of recovery/relief, which lift occupational licensing restrictions, limit employer liability for negligent hiring claims, and aim to ensure employment decisions about certificate-holders are made on a case-by-case basis. The present study presents the results of the first empirical test of the effectiveness of such certificates. Using an experimental correspondence design, fictitious applicants applied to entry-level jobs advertised in the Columbus metropolitan area using fabricated resumes with identical names, educational backgrounds, employment experience, and skills. Because the only differences between the resumes were the type of criminal record and the presence of a Certificate of Qualification for Employment (CQE), the results isolate the specific impacts of criminal records and certificates on employment opportunities. Results indicate that, for job seekers with a one-year-old felony drug conviction, having a certificate of recovery increases the likelihood of receiving an interview invitation or job offer more than threefold. Importantly, certificate-holders and their counterparts with clean criminal backgrounds were equally likely to receive an interview invitation or job offer.
More and more states are enacting new expungement and sealing laws, or expanding existing ones, some covering convictions for the first time. The first four months of 2016 alone saw courts given significant new authority to limit access to criminal records in four states, and bills have been introduced in several others that promise more new laws in months to come.
In April, Kentucky authorized expungement of felonies for the first time, while New Jersey reduced waiting periods for some offenses and made expungement automatic for some others. Also in April, Maryland’s Governor Hogan signed that state’s Justice Reinvestment Act, permitting expungement of misdemeanor convictions for the first time. Beginning in November, Pennsylvania courts will have new authority to seal misdemeanor offenses, and follow-up bills have been introduced in both houses to make sealing automatic for most non-felony records after a waiting period. There are also several pending proposals to significantly expand existing expungement laws in Oklahoma, Missouri, and Rhode Island.
We take a closer look at each of these new expungement authorities below.
The new laws evidence the growing momentum behind second-chance reforms. They also show how expansion of expungement and sealing mechanisms can be an incremental process. For example, the legislatures in Maryland and Pennsylvania first tested the waters by giving courts new authority to mitigate low-level conviction records in relatively limited ways, with both following up shortly after with proposals to increase both the availability and effectiveness of those mechanisms. Meanwhile, states with fairly robust expungement mechanisms already in place, like New Jersey, Missouri, and Kentucky, have taken steps to make relief available sooner and to more people. Relatedly, in the first four months of 2016, six more states enacted or expanded state-wide ban-the-box laws limiting inquiry about criminal records at early stages of the hiring process, bringing the total to 23.
The National Inventory of Collateral Consequences (NICCC), a comprehensive interactive catalog of collateral consequences and relief mechanisms, will soon become a part of the federally funded National Reentry Resource Center (NRRC). The NICCC, described by the Justice Department as an integral part of its Smart on Crime initiative, was developed by the American Bar Association between 2011 and 2014 under a grant from the National Institute of Justice (NIJ). The NRRC, also closely tied to the Administration’s reentry strategy, was established in 2011 by the Council of State Governments and has been supported by grants from a number of federal agencies, including NIJ, and by private foundations. Now the government has decided to consolidate the two projects under the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA).
According to a grant solicitation issued by the BJA earlier this month, bidders for a $5 million grant to administer the NRRC grant must “propose a plan to transfer” the NICCC and keep it up to date at an approximate annual cost of $100,000. The solicitation does not make clear what if any conditions apply to the transfer of the NICCC, or what if any continuing role the ABA would have for its maintenance, and we must assume the government has determined that it should be permanently transferred to whatever organization wins the bid for the NRRC. Bids are due by June 2. Read more
In the last few years, Pennsylvania’s courts have taken an active role in defining the propriety and scope of the state’s sex offender registration program. Following on the heels of a December 2014 decision striking down sex offender registration for juveniles, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently agreed to hear a sweeping challenge to the retroactive application of Pennsylvania’s adult sex offender registry. The new law, generally referred to as SORNA (Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act), took effect on December 20, 2012 as part of an effort to comply with the federal laws governing sex offenders. SORNA replaced a more lenient registration scheme where the majority of people convicted of sexual crimes had to register for only ten years. SORNA changed the paradigm and drastically increased the number of people included on the registry, the time periods for which they would have to register, and the number of things they have to report. Of the close to 19,500 people on the registry today, roughly three quarters have to register for the rest of their lives without any chance of removal.
In addition to making most offenders lifetime registrants, SORNA reclassified thousands of people who were ten year registrants under the old law and retroactively increased their terms of registration – in most instances to life. Hundreds of registrants sued, raising a number of different challenges to the law. Until now, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has refused to get involved.
The Department of Education (DOE) is asking colleges and universities to reconsider the use of criminal record inquiries on admissions applications in a new report released on Monday. The report, Beyond the Box: Increasing Access to Higher Education for Justice-Involved Individuals, looks at how broad inquiries into applicants’ criminal histories may deter people with criminal records from applying for post-secondary educational opportunities. It also suggests steps schools can take to ensure that their admission processes promote second chances for qualified applicants with criminal records, including banning the box on initial applications.
According to the report, “A survey of postsecondary institutions found that 66 percent of them collect CJI [criminal justice information] for all prospective students, and another 5 percent request CJI only for some students.” The Common Application, a uniform application used by nearly 700 schools, has since 2006 asked whether a person has been convicted of a misdemeanor or felony, “or other crime.” Some schools that use the Common Application allow applicants to opt out of disclosure, or delay criminal history inquiries until a preliminary admissions decision has been made. Other schools use their own non-standard applications which may require disclosure of convictions, arrests, or mere allegations of misconduct.
Vermonter Rich Cassidy, who chairs the CCRC Board, drew our attention to this extraordinary story of courage and compassion and plain good sense in the Green Mountain State. Published last week in the Vermont weekly Seven Days, it tells the story of LaMoille County Sheriff Roger Marcoux Jr.’s decision to take a chance on Timothy Szad, described as “a gifted carpenter and diligent worker” who is also “Lamoille County’s most notorious criminal.”
Here are a few introductory paragraphs to a story well worth reading in full.
In 2000, Szad stalked and sexually assaulted a 13-year-old boy in the southern Vermont woods. He went to jail for his crime and served the maximum sentence. But his punishment didn’t end when he got out, in 2013. His release was widely publicized, which generated something of a vigilante reaction. So he embarked on a cross-country journey in search of a new home. When no place would have him, he wound up back in Vermont — this time, in sleepy Hyde Park.
Starting next summer, private as well as public employers in Vermont will no longer be permitted to ask about a job applicant’s criminal history on an initial employment application. The change comes with the enactment of House Bill 261, which Governor Peter Shumlin signed into law yesterday. With the law’s enactment, Vermont becomes just the eighth state to ban the box in private employment. When CCRC Board Chair Rich Cassidy testified in favor of the provision before the Vermont legislature, he emphasized the importance of extending the prohibition to private employers.
In a signing ceremony, Governor Shumlin, who last year issued an executive order banning the box in public employment, had the following to say about the new law’s significance:
Too many Vermonters with criminal records are unable to successfully re-enter their communities due to lack of employment. Banning the box is all about breaking down barriers and giving those Vermonters who have paid their debt to society a fair chance at finding a good job. Nobody wins when Vermonters are trapped in a cycle of unemployment and incarceration.
Updated April 29:
According to comments late this week from senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett, the President remains inclined to defer to Congress when it comes to making federal contractors ban the box:
Asked whether there was consideration of whether to take action to require federal contractors to “ban the box,” Jarrett said, “The president has supported federal legislation that would ban the box for federal contractors. He thinks that’s the best approach.”
The legislation in question appears to have stalled, as noted by its sponsor Rep. Elijah Cummings. (In a tweet, Jarrett pointed advocates to a 2013 directive of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance reminding contractors of their obligation to comply with the EEOC guidance on criminal records.)
On the other hand, on Friday the administration made good on its November promise to require federal agencies to ban the box, when OPM announced a proposed rule requiring federal agencies to postpone inquiry into an applicant’s criminal record until after a conditional offer of employment has been made.
Also, marking the end of National Reentry Week, the President formally established the Federal Interagency Reentry Council, a Cabinet-level working group dedicated to “the rehabilitation and reintegration of individuals returning to their communities from prisons and jails.” Originally convened by the Attorney General in 2011, the President’s action ensures that the Council will continue past the end of his Administration.
Original post from April 26:
As the White House inaugural National Reentry Week begins, advocacy organizations and Members of Congress are again calling on President Obama to use his executive authority to “ban the box” in federal contractor hiring, just as he announced he would do in federal agency hiring last November.
The call comes on the heels of a number of steps the Obama Administration has taken to improve the employment prospects of those with criminal histories, including the creation of the Fair Chance Business Pledge earlier this month. Last fall, the President announced a number of additional reentry initiatives, including establishment of a Clean Slate Clearinghouse. The President’s overall record on second-chance issues has been commendable, but he will have to move quickly to maximize his administration’s impact before the end of his term.