New Jersey puts “fair chance housing” on the national agenda

People with a record frequently experience challenges in obtaining or maintaining housing. For those who have been incarcerated, on supervision, charged, and/or arrested, the background check for rental applications can be a persistent obstacle. Lack of stable housing is a major roadblock to successful reintegration into the community or the pursuit of social and economic opportunities. It is therefore encouraging that states have begun to enact laws limiting record-based disqualifications in housing decisions.

On June 18, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed into law the Fair Chance in Housing Act, the most rigorous state legislation to date limiting consideration of criminal records in housing decisions. During a ceremony to commemorate Juneteenth, he described the new law as a step to “level what has been for too long an uneven playing field when it comes to access to housing,” explaining that it will bar landlords from asking about criminal history in most instances. The NAACP New Jersey State Conference, Latino Action Network, Fair Share Housing Center, and New Jersey Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism led organizational advocacy for the measure. Senator Troy Singleton, one of the bill’s primary sponsors, cited the “staggering amount of data on the national level that shows securing housing is one of the key barriers to reducing recidivism,” according to the New York Times. “This measure will allow those who have paid their debt to society to move forward with their lives in a productive manner.” Another sponsor, Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly, noted that “We’re fighting generational poverty, homelessness, and hopelessness through social justice reform measures such as this one.”

With New Jersey’s legislation—following on the heels of laws enacted in 2019 in Colorado, Illinois, and New York, legislation in D.C. in 2017, and a slew of local ordinances since 2016— “fair chance housing” has arrived on the national reintegration agenda. While many states have adopted reforms that limit the use of criminal records in employment and occupational licensing, until these recent developments housing does not appear to have been a priority for lawmakers, at least at the state level.

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New Jersey Launches Electronic Filing System for Expungements

Editor’s note:  In 2019, New Jersey enacted a “clean slate” expungement authority that will eventually be automatic and is now available by petition. The same law directed the development of an e-filing system that is expected to eliminate many access barriers in the existing petition-based process. A detailed description of New Jersey’s expungement authorities, including its new “clean slate” law, can be found in the NJ profile from the Restoration of Rights Project.  

The New Jersey Courts recently announced the statewide launch of its eCourts Expungement System developed in accordance with recent amendments in the law to help increase efficiency of the expungement process. The new system allows attorneys and pro se petitioners to create and file petitions for traditional, “clean slate,” and cannabis-related expungements.  It introduces a number of efficiencies, including accessibility of state records databases, document creation for expungement petitions, and automatic service of applications on numerous parties.

Electronic filing is an important step as the state moves towards an automated expungement system, embracing the development of a “clean slate” model.  Under the new law, the state will develop and implement an automated process to expunge conviction records after a period of ten years from the most recent conviction, payment of fine, satisfactory completion of probation or parole, or release from incarceration whichever is later.  A task force will be established to examine, evaluate and make recommendations on its implementation.

But for now, the Expungement System should make the expungement process much easier for many who have access to computers and the internet. Previously, petitioners, even those who were filing through the JEDS system, were required to file several copies of their written or typed expungement applications and then serve copies on many other parties via certified mail, with return receipt requested, at a substantial cost. The court, however, will still accept paper expungement applications, important for those who may not have access to a computer or the internet.

Attorneys can access the system through eCourts, and pro se users can create an account through the New Jersey Court’s Self-Help Center (“Submit Expungement Petition Online” under “COVID-19 Self-Help Resources”).

Users can enter a municipal or superior court case number, and the expungement system will search and pull the petitioner’s court records from criminal, municipal and family court databases. Petitioners will have the ability to enter additional information not captured by the expungement system database; review and upload additional or supportive documents; and select or deselect which cases should be included on the proposed final order.

Once the petition is submitted and verified by the petitioner, the system will automatically create an order for hearing and serve the necessary parties with the documentation. It will also serve those parties if a final order of expungement is entered, and will provide a copy of the order to the petitioner.

The Expungement System does not provide eligibility advice or inform users as to whether any particular cases or any application is eligible for expungement. Users should consult with attorneys or advocates as to their eligibility prior to using the system or use other eligibility resources such as LSNJ’s CYRO eligibility interview. After filing, the prosecutor’s office will continue to be responsible for review of the petitioner’s application to confirm eligibility for expungement and will object if it determines that an application is ineligible.

Expungement System user guides are available on the Court’s website. LSNJ’s eligibility tools and resources are available at LSNJLAW’s Clearing Your Record Online.

Akil Roper is Chief Counsel for Reentry at Legal Services of New Jersey.  Legal Services of New Jersey coordinates and supports the statewide system of legal services providing civil legal assistance to low-income individuals.

New Jersey steps out as Reintegration Champion of 2019

Editors’ note: CCRC recently released its report on 2019 criminal record reforms, which recognized New Jersey as the “Reintegration Champion” of 2019, for having the most consequential legislative record of any state in the past year.  The following comment describes New Jersey’s laws enacted in 2019.  New Jersey’s various restoration of rights laws are further described in the state’s profile in the CCRC Restoration of Rights Project.

In December 2019, Governor Phil Murphy signed into law S4154, now L.2019, c.269, as part of his Second Chance Agenda.  The law is a strong step towards criminal justice reform, and places New Jersey on the map as a leader in expungement policy.  Along with easing access to the existing expungement process,  it creates a new “clean slate” system that provides for expungement of all but the most serious violent offenses after ten years. It additionally sets in motion a process aiming to automate all clean slate expungements.  The substantive provisions of the law are set to go into effect on June 15, 2020, and we anticipate a large increase in expungements following its implementation.

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Restoration of Rights & Record Relief

                                                                                Last updated: March 31, 2024 ContentsI.  Loss & restoration of civil/firearms rightsA.  Vote & juryB.  Public office & employmentC.  Collateral […]

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New Jersey

Restoration of Rights Project – New Jersey Profile Guide to restoration of rights, pardon, sealing & expungement following a New Jersey criminal conviction Todd Berger & J.C. Lore, New Jersey Collateral Consequences (2014, LexisNexis Practice Guide). Explains collateral consequences flowing from specific New Jersey criminal convictions, general classes of offenses and general types of offenses, as well as practice strategies, checklists, and appendices.  […]

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CCRC’s First Newsletter

Dear Subscribers,

We write with an update on our continued work to promote public discussion of restoration of rights and opportunities for people with a record. Highlights from this year’s work are summarized below, including roundups of new legislation, case studies on barriers to expungement, policy recommendations, and a new “fair chance lending” project to reduce criminal history barriers to government-supported loans to small businesses. We thank you for your interest and invite your comments as our work progresses. Read more

New fair chance employment and housing laws in 2021

In the first half of 2021, two states enacted major laws significantly expanding protections against discrimination based on criminal record: Illinois in the area of employment and New Jersey in housing decisions. Several other states also enacted new laws regulating consideration of criminal records in employment and housing, which are summarized below.

Fair chance employment

  • On March 23, 2021, Illinois Governor Pritzker signed into law HR1480, a major expansion of the Illinois Human Rights Act to add a new section prohibiting discrimination in employment based on criminal record. Unless otherwise authorized by law, it is a civil rights violation for any employer, employment agency or labor organization to use a conviction record as a basis to refuse to hire or to take any other adverse action unless: 1) there is a substantial relationship between one or more of the previous criminal offenses and the employment sought or held, or 2) the granting or continuation of the employment would involve a public safety risk. “Substantial relationship” means that the position offers the opportunity for the same or a similar offense to occur and “whether the circumstances leading to the conduct for which the person was convicted will recur in the employment position.” In making a determination the employer must consider various factors, including the time since conviction and evidence of rehabilitation. If the employer makes a “preliminary decision” to take adverse action, the employer shall notify the employee in writing, and explain the person’s right to respond. The employer must consider information submitted by the employee before making a final decision, and if the final decision is based “solely or in part” on the person’s conviction record, the employer must notify the person of their reasoning, inform them of whatever avenues of appeal may exist, and of their right to file a charge with the Department of Human Rights.
  • Louisiana‘s HB707 prohibits consideration of non-conviction records in employment decisions and requires employers to make an individual assessment of whether an applicant’s criminal record has “a direct and adverse relationship with the specific duties of the job that may justify denying the applicant the position,” considering certain specified factor relating to the criminal case and the applicant’s subsequent history. This law applies to any public or private employer.
  • Maryland enacted a ban-the-box rule applicable to private employers, after the legislature overrode Governor Hogan’s veto. Companies with 15 or more employees may not ask an applicant about their criminal history or conduct a background check at any time before the first in-person interview.
  • New Mexico enacted SB2, amending its 1974 law prohibiting certain discrimination in public employment and occupational licensure. (This law was written up in our earlier post on occupational licensure.) The new law bars consideration of convictions that have been sealed, dismissed, expunged or pardoned; juvenile adjudications; or convictions for a crime that “is not recent enough and sufficiently job-related to be predictive of performance in the position sought, given the position’s duties and responsibilities.”

Fair chance housing

  • On June 18, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed into law the Fair Chance in Housing Act, the most rigorous state legislation to date limiting consideration of criminal records in housing decisions. During a ceremony to commemorate Juneteenth, he described the new law as a step to “level what has been for too long an uneven playing field when it comes to access to housing,” explaining that it will bar landlords from asking about criminal history in most instances. The law prohibits consideration of any criminal record at the initial rental application stage, allows only certain records to be considered after a conditional offer is made, and imposes substantive and procedural standards for withdrawal of a conditional offer. Violations may be sanctioned with up to $10,000 in fines and other compliance measures, civil immunity is provided for landlords from claims based on decisions to rent to individuals with a record, and reporting requirements are included. The specific provisions of the new law were described in detail in a June 22 post by David Schlussel.
  • IllinoisSB1980 requires local housing authorities in Illinois to collect data on the number of applications for federally assisted housing by people with a criminal record, how many applications denied, and how many overturned after a records assessment hearing. The data must be reported to the Illinois Criminal Justice Information authority and to the legislature, and posted on the CJIA website. Per a 2020 law, the Illinois Human Rights Act also prohibits inquiries about, or discrimination in public and private employment and “real estate transactions” based on “arrest record,” defined as “an arrest not leading to a conviction, a juvenile record, or criminal history record information ordered expunged, sealed, or impounded.”
  • Louisiana‘s HB374 requires landlords in Louisiana to give notice to prospective tenants if they will consider criminal record information.

More details on these laws are available in the Restoration of Rights Project.

Dozens of new expungement laws already enacted in 2021

This year is turning out to be another remarkable year for new record relief enactments. In just the first six months of 2021, 25 states enacted no fewer than 51 laws authorizing sealing or expungement of criminal records, with another 5 states enrolling 11 bills that await a governor’s signature. Three of these states authorized sealing of convictions for the first time, seven states passed laws (or enrolled bills) providing authority for automatic sealing, and a number of additional states substantially expanded the reach of their existing expungement laws.

This post hits the highlights of what may well be the most extraordinary six-month period in the extraordinary modern period of criminal record reform that begin in 2013.  The only closely comparable period is the first six months of 2018, when 11 states enacted major reforms limiting consideration of criminal records in occupational licensing.  Further details of the laws mentioned below can be found in the relevant state profiles from the Restoration of Rights Project.

(An earlier post noted new occupational licensing laws in 2021, and subsequent ones will describe significant extensions of the right to vote so far this year, and summarize the more than 100 record reforms enacted to date.) Read more

New Mexico a new leader in criminal record reforms

This year, New Mexico enacted three significant laws restoring rights and opportunities to people with a criminal record, continuing a recent trend of major reforms in this area. The three measures involve adopting most of the provisions of the Uniform Collateral Consequences of Conviction Act, authorizing automatic expungement for a broad range of marijuana offenses as part of legalization, and expanding existing law regulating public employment and licensure to prohibit consideration of many types of convictions. A fourth new law significantly limits burdens imposed by court debt. These developments follow 2019 reforms introducing expungement into the state’s legal system for the very first time—through a comprehensive system of petition-based relief for most types of criminal records—and adopting a private sector ban-the-box law.

For these 2019 reforms, New Mexico earned an “honorable mention” for a productive legislative season in our reintegration report card for that year. This year’s noteworthy follow-up measures, summarized below, make New Mexico a contender for CCRC’s “reintegration champion” award in 2021.

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New occupational licensing laws in 2021

In the first five months of 2021, seven states and the District of Columbia enacted nine separate laws improving opportunities for people with a criminal record to obtain occupational licenses. This continues a four-year trend begun in 2017 that has seen 33 states and the District of Columbia enact 54 separate laws regulating consideration of criminal record in the licensing process.

Our report on new legislation in 2020 noted that “[o]f all the criminal record reforms enacted during this modern reintegration reform era, no other approaches the regulation of occupational licensing agencies in terms of breadth, consistency, and likely efficacy.” Laws enacted during this four-year period have “transformed the licensing policy landscape across the Nation and opened opportunities in regulated professions for many thousands of people.” The only period of law reform that rivals the present one came during the early 1970s, when many of the laws now being revised and extended were first enacted. The effectiveness of advocacy efforts by the Institute for Justice and National Employment Law Project in influencing this trend cannot be overstated.

So far during 2021, the U.S. jurisdiction to have enacted the most ambitious and comprehensive licensing scheme is the District of Columbia, and its new law (described in detail below) is one of the most progressive in the nation. New Jersey, New Mexico and Washington had not previously legislated in this area for many years, and all three extended and improved laws first enacted in the 1970s. Arizona, Georgia, Ohio, and Tennessee extended recently enacted laws, with Arizona legislating for the fourth time in this area in as many years!

The nine new laws are described below, and have been added to the state profiles and 50-state charts of the Restoration of Rights Project.

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