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!
This is the title of a provocative new article by Cara Suvall, Assistant Clinical Professor of Law at Vanderbilt Law School, and Director of the Youth Opportunity Clinic. The article, forthcoming in the Cardozo Law Review, catalogues and analyzes the costs and burdens that deter people from accessing certificates intended to enhance employment opportunities. Professor Suvall focuses particular attention on certificate programs in Tennessee, Georgia, and New York, which vary widely in eligibility criteria, administration, and legal effect. She highlights the learning, compliance, and psychological barriers that limit effectiveness of existing certificate programs, and describes proposals to lower those barriers.
Here is the abstract:
Policymakers around the country are grappling with how to provide a second chance to people with criminal records. These records create collateral consequences—invisible punishments that inhibit opportunity in all facets of a person’s life. Over the past seven years, states have repeatedly tried to legislate new paths for people trying to move on with their lives. State legislators passed more than 150 laws targeting collateral consequences in 2019 alone.
But what happens when these paths to second chances are littered with learning, compliance, and psychological costs? The people who most need these new opportunities may find that they are out of reach. A major problem, I argue, is the administrative burdens involved in accessing these remedies. Because of these hurdles, people with fewer resources—the population that would most benefit from the help—are the ones most likely to find these second chances out of reach. The Article closely examines one increasingly popular type of second-chance program: certificate laws that remove employment barriers.
Building on recent research identifying the low usage rates of petition-based second-chance programs, this Article catalogues and analyzes the costs and burdens placed on people attempting to access employment certificates. Of particular concern is not only these low usage rates themselves, but also the identity of those least likely to access these interventions. Second-chance programs like employment certificates that provide a way forward for people with greater resources while leaving behind those without may be more harmful than helpful when placed in the larger context of mass criminalization and social change, even if they help the small number of individuals who do access them. In contrast, a well-designed second-chance initiative that appropriately considers administrative burdens and the way that interventions like employment certificates fit in to the broader picture of social change could provide short-term benefits to people with criminal records while also bolstering larger-scale reforms to the criminal legal system.
Since 2013, almost every state has taken at least some steps to chip away at the negative effects of a criminal record on an individual’s ability to earn a living, access housing, education and public benefits, and otherwise fully participate in civil society. It has not been an easy task, in part because of the volume and complexity of state and federal laws imposing collateral consequences. To encourage employers and other decision-makers to give convicted individuals a fair chance, some states have enacted or modified judicial restoration mechanisms like expungement, sealing, and certificates of relief. Others have extended nondiscrimination laws, limited criminal record inquiries, and facilitated front-end opportunities to avoid conviction.
In partnership with the NACDL Restoration of Rights Project, the CCRC maintains a comprehensive and current state-by-state guide to mechanisms for restoration of rights and status after conviction. As a part of keeping that resource up to date, we have inventoried measures enacted and policies adopted by states in the past four years to mitigate or avoid the disabling effects of a criminal record, and present it here as a snapshot of an encouraging national trend.
The Supreme Court of Georgia has extended the doctrine of Padilla v. Kentucky to a failure to advise about parole eligibility. In Alexander v. State, decided on May 11, a defendant sentenced to a 15-year prison term for child molestation sought to set aside his guilty plea on grounds that his defense counsel had not warned him that, as a recidivist, he would not be eligible for parole. The Georgia high court agreed that this failure constituted deficient performance under the doctrine of Strickland v. Washington, overruling its 1999 precedent holding that the Sixth Amendment did not require a defense lawyer to advise a client about this “collateral consequence” of conviction. The Georgia court distinguished its 2010 post-Padilla decision declining to find a warning by the court necessary, finding a clear constitutional distinction between defense counsel’s Sixth Amendment obligation to advise a client considering a guilty plea and the court’s due process obligation to warn a defendant in the same situation.
At the same time, the court declined to approve a lower court’s earlier extension of Padilla to sex offender registration, reserving for another day the question whether this consequence is “a drastic measure” that is “intimately related” to the criminal case. Most of the post-Padilla decisions involving parole eligibility have rested on the dubious pre-Padilla erroneous advice exception to the collateral consequences rule, an exception that the Alexander court firmly rejected.
Job seekers applying for work with the state of Georgia will no longer need to disclose prior criminal convictions on their initial applications.” The order provides that this new policy “will allow returning citizens an opportunity to explain their unique circumstances in person to a potential employer.” Read more
A recent issue of Governing Magazine reports that pardoning is “making a comeback” after decades of neglect. It would be nice if it were true.
But the evidence of comeback is thin. Almost all of the jurisdictions where pardoning is thriving today are the same ones where it was thriving a decade ago. In a dozen states, including Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Nebraska, South Carolina and South Dakota, pardon has never been neglected, much less abandoned by responsible officials. In these jurisdictions and a handful of others, pardon has deep roots in the justice system and is supported by accountable institutions of government.
It is certainly true that Pat Quinn of Illinois and Jerry Brown of California have made generous use of the power of their office after years in which the pardon power in their states languished unused. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia is a newcomer to the small group of governors who evidently feel that pardoning is a responsibility of office. All three are to be commended for it. But three swallows do not make a summer.
The New York Times this morning describes data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights showing that African-American girls tend to face more serious school discipline than white girls. “For all the attention placed on problems that black boysface in terms of school discipline and criminal justice, there is increasing focus on the way those issues affect black girls as well.” Black girls who get in trouble at school are also more frequently referred to the criminal justice system, where they can incur a criminal record that sticks with them into adulthood.
“I don’t know why everyone is talking about the New Jim Crow; in the South the old one never went away.”– 2013 New Southern Strategy Coalition conference participant
The New Southern Strategy Coalition is a collaborative network of Southern advocacy groups and their national allies, originally convened in 2011 and dedicated to reducing the negative consequences of a criminal record in the South. Because the South has always been seen as a region resistant to criminal justice reform, many national groups do not have a presence there, and state-based advocacy efforts are generally underfunded and understaffed. The voices of those most affected are missing from southern state capitols, and the region is often left out of the national dialogue altogether.
NSSC addresses these challenges by providing opportunities for southern organizations to network and share information about regional best practices to minimize legal barriers to reentry. The premise is that state-specific reform efforts in the South will be supported and magnified by the Coalition’s collective goals operating across a unified landscape. NSSC holds regional conferences to discuss effective reform strategies, provides training and materials, ensures that the voices of directly affected individuals are included in a meaningful way, and uses web-based and social media tools to leverage reform efforts.