New York Bar adopts reentry recommendations

In 2012 newly elected President of the New York State Bar Association (NYSBA), Seymour James, Jr., drew upon his 38 years of experience at the Legal Aid Society of New York City to establish a Special Committee on Reentry and appointed committee members who would spend the next three years researching and studying issues relating to reentry and reintegration.

The goal of this Special Committee was to develop a report and recommendations including a consideration of collateral consequences that can have an impact on reentry regarding education, housing employment, medical health, mental health and juveniles. The report identifies some of the best practices to ensure productive lives and minimize recidivism of formerly incarcerated adults and detained juveniles, and of adults and juveniles who can avoid convictions and delinquency findings through innovative diversion programs.

On January 29, 2016 the NYSBA House of Delegates adopted the report and recommendations of the Special Committee.

One of the key areas the Special Committee studied was education. A significant recommendations was to ban the box on college applications, an issue that was raised by the Center for Community Alternatives (CCA) in its 2015 Report, Boxed Out: Criminal History Screening and College Application Attrition.  This CCA report was discussed earlier on this site.  The NYSBA recommendation supports adoption of the Fair Access to Education Act, a bill pending in the New York Legislature that would amend the Correction Law and Executive Law to make it an unlawful discriminatory practice for any college to ask about or consider an applicant’s past arrests or convictions during the application and admission decision-making process.

A second legislative recommendation called upon the Legislature to overturn the 1995 ban on incarcerated persons receiving student financial aid awards to help pay for college courses while in prison. The Special Committee noted that the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) should be considered a collective investment by society – “an investment we cannot afford to pass up.”

Another significant reform adopted by NYSBA was in the area of employment. The Special Committee recommended that New York State adopt a statewide “ban the box” policy by removing the criminal history question from both private and public employers’ applications and delay the background check to a later part of the hiring process. The committee reasoned that this would provide for consistency and uniformity of the law within the state (rather than a city by city approach), as well as give a fair opportunity to job seekers with a criminal history record.

Other recommendations contained in the report include:

● Based on the theory that reentry starts at arrest, the report calls for an expansion of diversion programs that will help individuals avoid the stigma of a criminal conviction and at the same time provide supportive programming to assist with employment, education and housing.

● Discharge planning should begin at the time of arrest, and should be accelerated no less than 180 days before anticipated release.

● The Uniform Collateral Consequences of Conviction Act (UCCCA) drafted by the National Conference of Commissioners of Uniform State Laws should be enacted and implemented. More specifically the report calls for the adoption of the UCCCA’s notice and relief provisions to provide a more individualized assessment of the application of collateral consequences to a specific re-entrant. In addition, New York should require thorough analysis of current collateral consequences, especially employment barriers, that hamper an individual’s re-entry so that New York State may develop some sort of relation between the convicted crime and the rights denied.

● The use of work release programs should be expanded and reinvigorated. Work release is a very effective reentry employment program, yet the use of work release has been greatly reduced over the last two decades. The existing work release program needs to be strengthened and made accessible to more individuals who are incarcerated.

● Child support reforms should be enacted to prevent reentering individuals from facing crushing child support arrears that have accumulated while they were in prison. Among the several recommendations in this area is the call for automatic review of child support orders once an individual is incarcerated.

● There should be coordination of medical and mental health care services between corrections and community to ensure continuity of care both while in custody and after release.

● Access to housing for people with criminal history records must be improved by policy changes affecting both public housing and private landlords, by eliminating or reducing the use of criminal history screening.

This report is a wonderful resource. Thank you to Seymour James Jr. for having the foresight to establish this Special Committee and congratulations to the committee members for their hard work over the past three years.

Alan Rosenthal

Alan Rosenthal is a criminal defense and civil rights attorney who served fifteen years as the Co-Director of Justice Strategies at the Center for Community Alternatives. He has written and lectured extensively on reentry and reintegration, and for the past five years has focused on the collateral consequences of criminal convictions on access to higher education.

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