President issues order announcing reentry initiatives

On November 2, the President issued an executive order announcing a series of steps to encourage reentry and rehabilitation of individuals who have recently been released from prison.  Among other things, the order establishes a National Clean Slate Clearinghouse, and authorizes technical assistance to legal aid programs and public defender offices “to build capacity for legal services needed to help with record-cleaning, expungement, and related civil legal services.”

According to an article in the New York Times, the measures

are all relatively modest in scale, important to the president less for their individual effect than for the direction they keep the country moving. Collectively, they reflect a belief that former inmates should have greater leeway to apply for jobs and housing without disclosing criminal records that would hinder their chances.

The order also calls on Congress to establish a ban-the-box program for federal employers and contractors.  In the interim, it asks the Office of Personnel Management to “take action where it can by modifying its rules to delay inquiries into criminal history until later in the hiring process.”  Presumably this means at a minimum that OPM should eliminate the criminal history question on its “Declaration for Federal Employment” form.  However, the order stops well short of recommending the more progressive steps proposed in a National Employment law Project report issued last January, including the revision of the federal “suitability” regulations to comply fully with the protections of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

We will shortly take a closer look at this new federal initiative to blunt the impact of collateral consequences.  For now, we post the text of the entire order.  Read more

New York governor adopts progressive collateral consequences agenda

Governor Cuomo has accepted all 12 recommendations made by his Council on Community Re-entry and Reintegration. The Council was created in July 2014 and tasked with “identifying barriers formerly incarcerated people face and making recommendations for change.”

Governor Cuomo’s 12 executive actions include:  adoption of anti-discrimination guidance for public housing; adoption of uniform guidelines for evaluating candidates for occupational licensing, and a presumption in favor of granting a license to a qualified applicant; revision of 10 licensing and employment regulations that imposed stricter standards than required by statute;  adoption of a “fair hiring” policy for state employment that will delay a background check until well into the hiring process; and streamlining the process for obtaining certificates of relief from disabilities and certificates of good conduct.

Council Chair Rossana Rosado said, “We accomplished our goals this year but our work is far from over. As we look to address many more of the systemic barriers encountered in re-entry, we will not lose sight of New York’s role as a leader in combating the devastating impact and stigma of second class citizenship that so many of our fellow New Yorkers face, especially men of color.”

The Council will continue to build on this successful first year by promoting a range of educational opportunities to improve chances of employment, addressing barriers to health care, seeking to reduce the potential for extortion from public exposure of criminal records and continuing to seek solutions to housing people with criminal convictions consistent with fairness and public safety.

Insurance companies undermine fair hiring efforts

An investigation by the Wall Street Journal reveals the little-known role that insurance companies play in shaping employer policies on hiring people with a criminal record.  Joe Palazzolo reports in “Criminal Records Haunt Hiring Initiative” that the “unseen hand of commercial insurers” frustrates efforts by some employers to implement fair hiring policies, and gives others an excuse for maintaining broad prohibitions on hiring convicted individuals.  “An employee is typically excluded from standard insurance policy against fraud, theft, embezzlement and other crimes—known as a fidelity bond—as soon as the employer discovers that he or she has committed a dishonest act, whether recently or in the past.”

The extent of the problem is illustrated by the story of Louis Henry, an Alabama man who lost a sales-management position at a medical-technology company after one day on the job, when a background check revealed a dated conviction for misreporting the status of a loan on the books of a bank where he worked.   “A May 1 letter from the employer, reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, said Mr. Henry’s record placed the company in violation of its insurance policies.”

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Ban-the-box featured on PBS NewsHour

On June 17 the PBS NewsHour featured a debate over ban-the-box policies in hiring. Daryl Atkinson, an attorney with the Southern Coalition for Justice in Raleigh, North Carolina, presented the case in favor of eliminating threshold questions about criminal record on employment applications.  Elizabeth Milito of the National Federal of Independent Business argued the other side, claiming that the costs of ban-the-box for a small business “can be pretty steep.” Read more

50-state survey of relief from sex offender registration

We have prepared a new 50-state chart detailing the provisions for termination of the obligation to register as a sex offender in each state and under federal law.  This project was inspired by Wayne Logan’s recent article in the Wisconsin Law Review titled “Database Infamia: Exit from the Sex Offender Registries,” discussed on this site on April 15.  The original idea of the project was simply to present Professor Logan’s research in the same format as the other 50-state charts that are part of the NACDL Restoration of Rights Resource, supplementing it as necessary.  But getting all of the state laws condensed into a few categories turned out to be a considerably more complex task than we imagined, in part because we had to fill in a lot of gaps, and in part because of the extraordinary variety and complexity of the laws themselves.

We present it here as a work in progress in the hope that practitioners and researchers in each state will review our work and give us comments to help us make the chart most helpful to them and to affected individuals. Read more

27 Senators urge Obama to “ban the box” in federal hiring

A group of 27 U.S. Senators have written to President Obama urging him to implement “fair chance” hiring in federal government employment.   The Senators — all Democrats, led by Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) — asked the President to issue an executive order directing federal agencies and contractors to postpone inquiry into criminal records until a later point in the hiring process.  The so-called ban-the-box movement in the states has been gaining steam and has been largely bipartisan, with executive orders issued most recently in Georgia and Vermont.  Some of the largest employers in the country, including Walmart, Target, Home Depot and Koch Industries have also stopped asking about prior convictions at the beginning of the job application process.

The press release and letter are here.  A January 2015 report from the National Employment Law Project suggests that the details of a presidential executive order may be difficult to work out, given the decentralized nature of federal hiring and the applicability of formal background check requirements to a substantial number of federally-funded jobs.

 

Leaked White House memos detail president’s pardon policy

USA Today has published a White House document detailing President Obama’s policy on granting clemency, including both sentence commutation and post-sentence pardons.  In a memorandum dated July 13, 2010 to the Acting Deputy Attorney General, White House Counsel Robert Bauer “convey[ed] the President’s views” on the exercise of his constitutional pardon power, affirming traditional standards but emphasizing that there are “certain offenses for which a pardon should very rarely, if ever, be granted absent truly exceptional circumstances.”  Among these were “large-scale drug trafficking” in which the applicant had “a significant role,” and financial fraud cases involving “substantial loss to the federal government or its programs.”

The memo affirmed the five-year eligibility waiting period for a pardon, overriding a 2001 policy of the Bush Administration (also published for the first time) that imposed an informal 10-year waiting period.  At the same time, it emphasized that the passage of additional time may strengthen an applicant’s case for pardon: Read more

Collateral consequences and the transforming effect of the drug war

Amid last week’s torrent of commentary about the downstream effects of the punitive policies of the 1990s came this extraordinary interview with David Simon of the Wire, who attributes the breakdown of community in Baltimore to the aggressive abuse of official discretion in the drug war.  While Simon’s remarks are not directly related to collateral consequences, it is not hard to trace to the same source the regime of punitive laws and policies that now bars people with a criminal record from benefits and opportunities affecting literally every aspect of daily life.

Case in point, from an NPR report aired last week: Tyrone Peake, trained as a drug counselor, is barred for life from working at a nursing home or long-term care facility in the State of Pennsylvania because of his 1981 teenage conviction for attempted car theft for which he received probation.  See Carrie Johnson, “Can’t Get A Job Because Of A Criminal Record? A Lawsuit Is Trying To Change That,” April 30, 2015.

Dismantling what Jack Chin has called “the new civil death,” like rebuilding trust between police and community, is the work of the next decade.

Vermont becomes the 16th state to ban the box!

On April 22 Vermont became the 16th state to remove the question about criminal record from most state employment applications.   By Executive Order of Governor Peter Shumlin, people applying for most state jobs will not be required to undergo a background check until after they have been deemed qualified and offered an interview180px-Coat_of_arms_of_Vermont.svg.      

“When we hire in-state, the first question will not be whether you’ve been convicted or arrested,” Shumlin said. “We will hold that question until the interview and give you a chance to qualify for the job for which you’ve applied.”

About 8 percent of people seeking Vermont state jobs checked the criminal history box last year, according to the state Human Resources Commission.   Certain sensitive and law enforcement positions are excepted.

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Is suspension of driving privileges an effective way to collect unpaid fines?

realid-dlNo, according to a recent study of efforts to enforce monetary judgments in a Milwaukee municipal court and to a national organization with expertise in traffic safety. The Justice Initiative Institute reviewed non-criminal, municipal cases from 2008-2013 in which the Milwaukee court had ordered the detention of defendants for not having paid fines.

Not surprisingly, the report shows that most people who fail to pay fines have little if any income (a majority of those detained were unemployed). Therefore, although the prospect of sanctions might encourage payment by a population with greater financial resources, the use of incarceration for non-payment ends up costing the City of Milwaukee more than any additional amount of fines collected.

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