January 22, 2010

THE NEW YORK TIMES

January 19, 2010

EDITORIAL

Among the leading causes of recidivism are employment policies in the private and public sectors that discriminate against former offenders and too often drive them back to jail. New York State first addressed this problem more than 30 years ago with laws protecting the employment rights of people with criminal convictions. But two investigations by Attorney General Andrew Cuomo suggest that some companies are finding ways around these laws.

Employers in New York can, of course, review an applicant’s history. But they cannot deny an applicant a job on the basis of a conviction without considering whether the offense bears a relationship to the job being sought. New York law also forbids employers from shutting out qualified applicants because of convictions that are sealed or dismissed, minor infractions like speeding tickets or for arrests that do not lead to conviction.

In a recently completed investigation, the attorney general found that ChoicePoint, a nationally known employee screening company, was involved in creating an online job application system for employers that automatically disqualified thousands of applicants who disclosed criminal convictions. Moreover, investigators found that the company had recommended to employers that they disqualify applicants based on sealed or dismissed convictions and legal outcomes that are regarded as violations — not crimes — under New York law. One ChoicePoint client violated state law by withdrawing conditional job offers after information that should not have been taken into account turned up in background checks.

In a separate investigation, the attorney general found that RadioShack also had ignored the law by rejecting job applicants whose violations had been sealed, set aside or deemed to be minor. Both companies have agreed to pay financial penalties and to obey the law, without admitting or denying wrongdoing. But the cases raise the disturbing possibility that the practices they engaged in may be more widespread than supposed in a state that has been a national model in giving former prisoners a chance at honest work.


Gubernatorial Candidate Forum: Justice & Reentry

January 22, 2010

WHO WILL LEAD US?
BUILDING THE ROAD TO RESTORATION

What: Second Chance Gubernatorial Candidate Forum
When: Saturday, Jan. 23rd, 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.
Where: Coffman Union, 3rd Floor, University of Minnesota
(300 Washington Ave., S.E., Mpls, 55455

The Second Chance Coalition is a non-partisan organization supported by hundreds of individuals and more than 40 organizations in MN that advocate for policies that allow people with criminal records to redeem themselves, fully support themselves and their families, and contribute to their communities to their full potential.

Join us for a unique, two-way dialogue with governor candidates from both parties. Candidates will hear our stories and concerns about the criminal justice system, and we will hear candidates’ ideas for change.


Minnesota Becomes First State to “Ban the Box”

January 15, 2010
Minnesota Becomes First State to “Ban the Box”, Narrows Employer Liability for Criminal Records On May 11th Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty signed into law a public safety policy omnibus bill (House File 1301) which includes two provisions that begin to address the growing problem of individuals with criminal records finding employment. One provision requires all Minnesota public employers to wait until a job applicant has been selected for an interview before asking about criminal records or conducting a criminal record check, except for positions that already require a background check. Passage of this legislation makes Minnesota the first state to adopt a statewide “Ban the Box” law since the initiative was started by a group called All of Us or None in California several years ago.
The other provision limits the admission of evidence of an employee’s criminal record against an employer if: (1) the duties of the position did not expose others to a greater degree of risk than that created by the employee interacting with the public outside of the duties of the position or that might be created by being employed in general; (2) a court order sealed any record of the criminal case; or (3) the record did not result in a criminal conviction.
The legislation was passed in large part due to the grassroots organizing efforts of the Second Chance Coalition, a diverse coalition of 24 community organizations, including: 180 Degrees, Inc., AMICUS, Goodwill/Easter Seals MN, Council on Crime and Justice, Rebuild Resources, Jacob Wetterling Foundation, RS Eden, Minnesota Council of Churches, NOLA Investigates – Criminal Defense Investigation, MN Catholic Conference, Minnesota Fathers & Families Network, Northside Policy Action Coalition, People Escaping Poverty Project, Project for Pride in Living, Children’s Defense Fund, Peace Foundation, Minneapolis Urban League, HIRED, LIFE in Recovery, NAMI MN, the Barbara Schneider Foundation, Elim Transitional Housing, Emerge Community Development, Greater Minneapolis Council on Churches, and Juel Fairbanks Chemical Dependency Services.
The Minneapolis-based Council on Crime and Justice led direct lobbying efforts for the legislation. According to Council President and former Hennepin County Judge Pamela Alexander: “Over the last several decades increases in criminalization combined with easier access to criminal records and heightened fear and scrutiny have created an entire class of people who are subject to permanent punishment and find it extremely difficult to become fully-contributing members of their communities through stable housing and gainful employment. It includes hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans. Passage of this legislation is an important first step towards alleviating this situation, making our communities more safe, economically stable, and just.” According to the Council’s Director of Public Policy and Advocacy, Mark Haase, the “Ban the Box” law reduces discrimination and confusion based only upon initial application, does not limit access to the criminal record, saves public employers time and money and gives them a more diverse applicant pool, increases employment opportunities for otherwise-qualified applicants, and does not limit private employer discretion but provides them with a best practice model.
The civil liability, or “Safe Hiring” law, gives employers some tools in knowing when criminal records are relevant and which types of records need not be considered at all. Employers will need to be trained on how this law can help them increase employment opportunities for individuals with criminal records. The bills’ chief authors were Senators Mee Moua and Ron Latz and Representatives Sheldon Johnson and Bobby Champion.

For more information contact Sarah Walker, COO at 180 Degrees: 612-813-5017 or sarahw@180degrees.org


“Minnesota Criminal Record Facts”

January 15, 2010

Minnesota Criminal Record Facts

Approximately 155,000 Minnesotan’s are currently under some type of correctional supervision, but in 2006 alone there were approximately 15,000 felony convictions in Minnesota (up from about 5,000 in 1982). Add to this the people convicted or charged long ago, and lower-level offenses, and the number of Minnesotans with a criminal record could easily reach one million.

Publicly available records are created at arrest and charging, even if it is determined that the wrong person was arrested or charged. The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension releases nonconviction records and records of conviction to employers and landlords for the lifetime of the record subject with the subject’s consent. Some types of juvenile records are publicly available and available for licensed employment.

In order to have dismissed charges sealed, a person needs to go through a complicated, lengthy, and costly expungement process. Minnesota court cases have made it difficult to know if a judge can ever seal all records of conviction and some dismissed cases.

Some states have a “Certificate of Rehabilitation” process that provides concrete ways to help people move beyond their record and gain employment and housing. Minnesota has no such process.

In some states employers are prohibited from discriminating against someone based solely on a nonconviction record or certain types (and age) of convictions. Minnesota has no such protections.

Employer surveys have shown that people with criminal records, even lower level offenses, are the least likely to be hired. Research findings indicate that employers are somewhat more likely to hire someone with a criminal record after they have met the person face to face, rather than judging them solely based on a criminal record question on an application.

Because people of color are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system, criminal record barriers to employment further increase racial discrimination.

The legislature has created hundreds of statutory bars to employment for people with criminal records. Young people entering higher education programs are often unaware of these barriers before they invest time and money into preparing for an occupation that may be closed to them.

For more information or questions contact:

Mark Haase, Council on Crime and Justice, 612-353-3020 or haasem@crimeandjustice.org


“Cradle to Prison Pipeline”

January 15, 2010

America’s Cradle to Prison Pipeline report, released  in September, 2007 by Children’s Defense Fund, states that “the most dangerous place for a child to be born in America, is at the intersection of race and poverty.”

There are 152,000 children living in poverty in Minnesota.

45%, or nearly half, of Minnesota’s Black children live in poverty. This rate of poverty for Black children is above the national average, and in fact only 3 states have higher poverty rates for Black children than Minnesota – Oklahoma, Louisiana and Mississippi.

Child poverty costs the state of Minnesota $5.7 billion annually, due to lost economic productivity and added expenditures in the health care and criminal justice system.

According to the 2008 Minnesota Kid’s Count Data Book and a study done by the Humans Service Policy Center at the Evans School of Public Affairs in Washington “Poverty acts like a poison, damaging the growing brain and limiting children’s potential as they grow into adulthood.”

Black boys born in 2001 are at a 1 in 3 lifetime risk of going to prison, and Latino boys born in 2001 at a 1 in 6 lifetime risk, as opposed to the 1 in 17 chance a White boy has.

One of the factor’s fueling this prison pipeline is lack of health and mental health care.

Children who have health care coverage are more likely to see a doctor regularly and avoid serious health issues.. Unidentified health issues often lead to behavioral problems in school which lead to be victimized by the zero tolerance school discipline policies, suspension, arrest and criminalization.

Children without health care are more likely to miss school, fall behind, act out, get into trouble, and eventually drop out.

Healthy early years build a foundation for life-long health and well-being.

9.4 million children across our nation, 77,000 here in Minnesota, are living without health care.

For More Information: http://www.childrensdefense.org/child-research-data-publications/data/cradle-prison-pipeline-minnesota-2008-fact-sheet.pdf

http://www.childrensdefense.org/child-research-data-publications/data/state-of-americas-children-2008-report-youths-at-risk.pdf


“Reducing Barriers for Ex-offenders with Mental Illnesses”

January 15, 2010

Reducing Barriers for Ex-offenders with Mental Illnesses

After release from prison or jail, ex-offenders face incredible barriers to finding treatment, employment and safe housing—the key factors that will keep them out of jail or prison. These barriers are even greater for ex-offenders with mental illnesses.

People with mental

illnesses are significantly overrepresented in the criminal justice system.

  • § Currently, about 75% of women and 25% of men in prison are receiving psychiatric or psychological care (Minnesota Dept. of Corrections, 2009).
  • § At least 60% of Minnesota jail inmates have a mental illness (NAMI Minnesota, 2006).
  • § By contrast, about 26% of people in the general population have a mental illness (National Institute of Mental Health, 2008).
  • § The lack of access to mental health treatment in corrections and in the community creates a revolving door of ex-offenders back into the criminal justice system. Without the appropriate resources, ex-offenders with mental illnesses are likely to be re-incarcerated.
Coordinated responses

can work well and allow counties and the state to use resources more

effectively.

  • § Re-incarceration rates have fallen by two-thirds for participants in Stearns County’s jail discharge planning program. Re-incarceration rates are typically much higher without discharge planning.
  • § Through discharge planning, Stearns County has opened up beds for other inmates and reduced the need to pay for additional jail beds in other counties.

Policy responses:

To stop the revolving door and improve public safety, jails and prisons should offer discharge planning services for inmates with mental illnesses. Returning offenders are less likely to re-offend if they have the tools necessary for them to successfully reenter the community, including treatment and rehabilitative services, identification, a reasonable supply of medication, application for health care benefits, access to housing and employment. To do this, Minnesota should (1) hire more prison release planners and (2) fund pilot projects and develop standards for counties to conduct discharge planning from jails.

Minnesota should also take steps to divert people with mental illnesses from the criminal justice system into treatment when appropriate. The state should (1) create standards and funding for mental health courts, (2) hire more public defenders, (3) fund and provide more crisis intervention team (CIT) training for local law enforcement officials and (4) provide funding for a basic four-hour or more class to increase law enforcement officials’ understanding of mental illness.

Questions? Contact Sue Abderholden at NAMI Minnesota:

651-645-2948


“Higher Education Notice”

January 15, 2010

Minn. Stat. 135A.157

“Higher Education Notice”

This legislation was recommended by the Collateral Sanctions Committee of the Minnesota Legislature in response to the stories of a number of students who made their way through college, spending time and money, only to find that their criminal record prevented or inhibited them from finding a job within their field of study.

Effective August 1, 2009, Minn. Stat. 135A.157 requires all public and private postsecondary educational institutions within the State of Minnesota to give notice of the potential effects of criminal convictions on future employment.  By giving future students the notice required by this law, such students will know that their options may be limited in certain fields before they invest time and money in a particular area of study.  Ideally, it will also make the general public more aware of some of the onerous and often unreasonable statutory employment restrictions and lead to the change of these policies. This legislation was developed by the Council on Crime and Justice, supported by the Second Chance Coalition, and authored by Senator Ron Latz and House Representative Sheldon Johnson.

There is currently no central location that contains comprehensive information regarding which types of criminal records will prevent or restrict employment in which fields.[1] A web-based location is needed to make sure that students who have criminal records can find accurate information on career restrictions that affect them.  The Council is seeking funding and support for the development of this resource.

[135A.157] NOTICE TO STUDENTS REGARDING POSSIBLE IMPACT OF CRIMINAL RECORDS.
(a) A public or private postsecondary educational institution located in this state shall give notice under this section to each person accepted for admission to be a student at the institution. This notice shall be given at or before the time of acceptance for admission to the institution and at or before the time students select a major.
(b) A notice provided under this section must inform students that arrests, charges, or convictions of criminal offenses may limit employment possibilities in specific careers and occupations and may limit their ability to obtain federal, state, and other financial aid, and must encourage students to investigate these possibilities. The notice must not discourage students from applying for federal, state, or other financial aid.
(c) A postsecondary educational institution is not liable for failing to provide the notice required by this section.


[1] Currently, two sources of information are Minn. Stat. 609B COLLATERAL SANCTIONS  https://www.revisor.leg.state.mn.us/statutes/?id=609B , and the Minnesota Legislature’s Overview of Background Check Statutes http://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/hrd/pubs/bkgdchck.pdf .