Business community endorses broad second-chance agenda

The Business Roundtable, which represents the CEOs of major U.S. companies, yesterday issued corporate and public policy recommendations to advance racial equity and justice in the wake of 2020’s triple crises disproportionately impacting communities of color: pandemic, recession, and protests in response to police violence.  The policy recommendations have six themes: employment, finance, education, health, housing, and the justice system.  The justice system policy report was developed with the assistance of CCRC’s Margaret Love and David Schlussel, who provided general advice in connection with the Roundtable’s consideration of second-chance policies.

The second-chance recommendations are extremely encouraging, signaling the business community’s embrace of a broad agenda for alleviating barriers to economic and social opportunities for people with a criminal record.

The Roundtable endorsed specific pending federal legislation dealing with automatic expungement, judicial certificates of relief, fines and fees reforms, and prison education and training programs.  The Roundtable also expressed support for expanding federal and state deferred adjudication (judicial diversion) policies, limiting the dissemination of dated conviction records in background checks, “banning the box” in hiring in all states, and relaxing state and federal hiring and occupational licensing bans.

As part of its action agenda, the Roundtable has committed to partnering on the creation of a business coalition to advance second-chance hiring by employers. Coalition members will exchange best practices, learn from subject matter experts, and develop and deploy tools to improve second-chance hiring, as part of a workforce diversity strategy.

Our recent national report, “The Many Roads to Reintegration,” which surveys the current state of the law on many of the issues addressed by the Roundtable recommendations–including employment, licensing, expungement, judicial certificates, deferred adjudication, and other forms of record relief–is available here.

The Roundtable’s full set of justice system recommendations are listed below.

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“The Reintegration Agenda During Pandemic: Criminal Record Reforms in 2020”

In each of the past five years, CCRC has issued an end-of-year report on legislative efforts to reduce the barriers faced by people with a criminal record in the workplace, at the ballot box, and in many other areas of daily life.[i] These reports document the progress of what has become a full-fledged law reform movement to restore individuals’ rights and status following their navigation of the criminal law system.

Our 2020 report, linked here, shows a continuation of this legislative trend. While fewer states enacted fewer laws in 2020 than in the preceding two years, evidently because of the disruptions caused by the pandemic, the fact that there was still considerable progress is testament to a genuine and enduring public commitment to a reintegration agenda.

In 2020, 32 states, the District of Columbia, and the federal government enacted 106 legislative bills, approved 5 ballot initiatives, and issued 4 executive orders to restore rights and opportunities to people with a criminal record.

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Are Trump’s Pardons a Blessing in Disguise?

The title of this post is the title of my piece in Lawfare arguing that, in response to President Trump’s reckless pardoning,  Congress should reroute many of pardon’s routine functions into the federal courts. The piece is reprinted below:

Are Trump’s Pardons a Blessing in Disguise?

As President Trump’s irregular and self-serving pardons roll out, incoming President Biden has been urged to repair or replace the process for advising the president on the use of this extraordinary constitutional power.

It makes sense that critics have directed their ire and reform energies toward the mechanics of the pardon process, particularly since President Trump is on the record as disdaining it. But improvements in the process will not solve the problem laid bare by this president’s reckless pardoning. We should instead be asking more basic questions about what if any role the pardon power should play in the ordinary operation of the federal justice system. That system has asked far too much of pardon in recent years, and increased demand has played a major role in the power’s abuse. Congress needs to reroute many of pardon’s routine functions into the federal courts.

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Federal Certificate Offers New Hope for Americans in ‘Internal Exile’

The title of this post is the title of our op-ed in The Crime Report in support of a bipartisan Senate bill that would authorize judges to issue a “Certificate of Rehabilitation” to qualified individuals with federal convictions.  The bill in question was included in the Business Roundtable’s “Second Chance Agenda,” which was the subject of a post here two weeks ago.  The op ed is reprinted below:

Federal Certificate Offers New Hope for Americans in ‘Internal Exile’

The collateral consequences of a federal conviction have thrust many Americans into what some have termed an “internal exile.” Barriers that prevent full reintegration into society are liberally distributed in federal and state laws and regulations.

Congress is now weighing a new form of relief—a Certificate of Rehabilitation—intended to address the absence of any general federal restoration of rights regime, leaving aside the once-robust, now rare and erratic presidential pardon power.

Under the proposed RE-ENTER Act of 2019 (S. 2931), the certificates would be issued by a judge to alleviate the burdens of a criminal record.

The concept was pioneered by New York more than half a century ago, and is currently authorized in 12 states. It has been recommended by the major national law reform organizations.

Now more than ever, there is a pressing need for judicial relief to supplement the federal pardon power: President Donald Trump’s neglect of the Justice Department advisory process has produced a 3,000-case backlog of post-sentence pardon applications.

So far, the RE-ENTER Act has been languishing in committee, despite bipartisan support.

While the Senate is otherwise occupied at the moment, a recent endorsement by the Business Roundtable may have given it new momentum. It’s possible that S. 2931 will be considered in the lame duck session or reintroduced after the new Congress is seated.

For tens of thousands of Americans, that would be welcome news.

There are several things to like about the bill.

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Biden Administration announces actions to promote reintegration

America is a nation of second chances. Our nation must provide people who have been incarcerated meaningful opportunities for redemption and rehabilitation. America was founded on fresh starts, new possibilities, and the belief that every person deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. Yet, for people returning home to their communities from jail or prison, obstacles often stand in the way of turning this promise into a reality.

Bipartisan elected officials, faith leaders, civil rights advocates, and law enforcement leaders agree that our criminal justice system can and should reflect core values that promote safer and stronger communities, such as tackling the root causes of crime, improving individual and collective outcomes, and ensuring taxpayer dollars are delivering the highest degree of public safety and equal justice.

That’s why, today, the Biden-Harris administration is releasing an evidence-informed, multi-year Alternatives, Rehabilitation, and Reentry Strategic Plan to strengthen public safety by reducing unnecessary criminal justice system interactions so police officers can focus on fighting crime; supporting rehabilitation during incarceration; and facilitating successful reentry. The plan builds upon President Biden’s Safer America Plan – his comprehensive strategy to prevent and combat gun crime and violence – and outlines more than 100 concrete policy actions to improve the criminal justice system and strengthen public safety by leveraging data, research, and proven successful strategies from state and local governments across the country.

The Strategic Plan supports justice-involved persons and promotes public safety by utilizing a whole-of-government approach through which the Biden-Harris administration will:

  • Expand access to health care;
  • Secure access to safe and affordable housing;
  • Enhance educational opportunities;
  • Expand access to food and subsistence benefits;
  • Create and enhance job opportunities and access to business capital;
  • Strengthen access to banking and other financial services; and
  • Reduce barriers to the ballot box for eligible persons.

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Applying for SBA COVID-19 relief with a criminal record in 2021

Last Updated: September 9, 2021

In December 2020, Congress authorized additional COVID-19 financial relief for small businesses and nonprofits, available through the Small Business Administration (SBA). The SBA’s two primary programs for COVID-19 financial relief are the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which provides forgivable loans to small businesses and nonprofits to help keep their staff employed during the crisis; and the COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program, which provides advances and loans to small businesses and nonprofits that experience a temporary loss of revenue due to COVID-19.

After the first COVID-19 relief bill, the CARES Act, funded these programs in March 2020, the SBA imposed broad criminal history restrictions on applicants. In the face of pressure, the administration relaxed those restrictions several times over the course of the following months.  In March 2021, the Biden Administration removed an additional restriction.  In this post, we review those developments and describe the SBA’s current criminal history policies, also available on the SBA’s website (PPP and EIDL).

To summarize, as a result of developments to date, the SBA now excludes from PPP relief only a narrow category of people with a criminal record: those 1) actually incarcerated or with pending felony charges; or 2) convicted, pleaded guilty or nolo contendere to, or commenced any form of parole or probation within the last 5 years for certain financial felonies. The category of those excluded from EIDL relief is broader: 1) anyone convicted of any felony within the past five years, and 2) anyone with any sort of pending criminal charges.

We conclude with a series of recommended changes to the laws governing SBA loans that affect people with a criminal record, and to related SBA regulations and policies.  These recommendations include consideration of how a loan applicant’s criminal record is treated in the rules and policies governing the SBA’s general lending programs under Section 7(a) and 7(b) of the Small Business Act, whose only mention of criminal record is to authorize the SBA to “verify the applicant’s criminal background, or lack thereof,” including through an FBI background check.

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