In 2007 a group of Minnesota non-profit leaders and reentry practitioners met to discuss the possibility of raising awareness throughout the state regarding the challenges facing individuals with criminal records. Many of them represented organizations that provided direct services of varying types, such as employment and housing, but found that the success of their clients and their programs was greatly limited by the criminal records that often and more and more held them back. Organizations committed to reform agreed to host the first-ever event with the express focus of bringing ex-offenders and their supporters to the capitol and raising awareness of the too often invisible struggles faced by those with criminal records. The first “Second Chance Day on the Hill” was held February 13, 2008. The coalition applied for a small grant to help fund these efforts and with just $5,000 was able to bring over five-hundred people to the capitol.
While the first “Second Chance Day on the Hill” was successful in mobilizing a large number of individuals to attend there were few tangible results to herald. However, many community members and non-profit leaders encouraged the informal coalition to host another “Second Chance Day on the Hill” the following year. The lead organizers of the group met and agreed to move forward with planning for 2009. That year, the mobilization efforts combined with direct lobbying efforts lead by the Council on Crime and Justice did lead to significant positive and tangible results. Governor Tim Pawlenty signed into law a bill which requires all Minnesota public employers to wait until a job applicant has been selected for an interview before asking about a criminal record or conducting a criminal record check, except for positions that already require a background check. Passage of this legislation made Minnesota the first state to adopt a statewide “Ban the Box” law since the initiative to remove the questions about past criminal record was undertaken by All of Us or None of Us, a California based non-profit advocacy group. Another law was also enacted limiting the admission of evidence of an employees’ criminal record against an employer if: (1) the duties of the position did not expose others to a greater 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. This law has since been lauded as one of the strongest criminal record employee liability protections statutes in the country.
The legislation was passed in large part due to the success of the grassroots organizing efforts of the Second Chance Coalition (www.mnsecondchancecoalition.org). At that time the Coalition was a diverse coalition of twenty-four 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, MN Children’s Defense Fund, Peace Foundation, Take Action Minnesota, Minneapolis Urban League, HIRED, Life in Recovery, NAMI MN, Barbara Schneider Foundation, Elim Transitional Housing, Emerge Community Development, Greater Minneapolis Council of Churches, and Jules Fairbanks Chemical Dependency Services.
Since 2007 this group of leaders, advocates, and affected individuals have continued to meet and press forward with policy reform. Membership has grown to over 50 organizations. The Coalition recently held it’s 6th annual Second Chance Day on the Hill, with hundreds of attendees from across the state, over 20 legislators in attendance, and agreed-upon policy priorities such as applying “Ban the Box” to private employers, protection of juvenile records, and expanding voting right to felons immediately after release from jail or prison.
The Coalition is still informal and is not a non-profit organization, but members recently approved bylaws and the election of a 13 member Executive Committee in order to clarify roles and decision-making. 180 Degrees, Inc has provided administrative and fiscal support for the Coalition.
The efforts of members of the Second Chance Coalition have demonstrated the potential of moving beyond traditional organizational and issue silos. The Second Chance Coalition has successfully helped create bridges to non-traditional allies such as: rural and urban communities, Juvenile Justice Advocate and Criminal Justice advocates, youth serving/advocating organizations and adult serving/advocating organizations, small non-profits and large national non-profits, community based organizations and “systems” based organization, religious and secular organization, organizations with seemingly different issue focuses and among organizations traditionally vying for legislative support.
Non-profit organizations who could just as easily be competing for declining public dollars were working together toward common goals. One of the factors to which the Second Chance Coalition attributes success is the emergence of a new, youthful and energetic leadership. These emerging leaders have successfully collaborated while limiting organizational and individual power-struggles allowing an increased sense of individual and organizational efficacy. To accomplish all of this has required commitments of time and resources. In addition, it required leveraging individual and organizational relationships that no one organization could have managed alone. For example, Rebuild Resources, a social enterprise that works with individuals in the recovery and re-entry process has provided T-shirts and Buttons at cost. Rebuild Resources, members of the coalition, believed the work of the coalition was in line with their mission and made a generous in-kind donation. Another factor contributing to the success of the Coalition and the passing of “Ban the Box” was a coordinated and professional marketing campaign. In preparation for the 2008 Second Chance Day on the Hill Goodwill/Easter Seals MN marketing department designed the coalition’s logo. The slogan for the 2008 Day on the Hill was “Can you Imagine Life without a Second Chance.” Rebuild and Goodwill have continued to provide these resources each year.
The work and impact of the Coalition can best be summarized in the words of some of its members:
“Individuals who felt that their voices had long ago been forgotten had a chance to remind us about who they are and the power of their stories. Legislators who can feel isolated among their peers when talking about providing second chances saw the huge amount of grassroots support there was for their work.”
“I was walking in the halls of the capitol – trying to get to the press conference on the Second Chance legislative platform when I ran into an acquaintance from one of the other participating organizations. We spoke about what a great day it was and how powerful cooperation among our agencies could be. That brief discussion led to a meeting between the head of my organization and the head of his, exploring ways our organizations can work together. It may lead to more solid ideas for partnering but, even if it doesn’t go that far, it opened our eyes further as to what is happening out in the community and that’s always a good thing.”
“I am so proud to be part of MN Second Chance Coalition (I say it all the time, but it bears repeating!) This is such a victory for the men and women many of us serve who want nothing more than an even chance to re-engage community in healthy and productive ways.”
“I am completely indebted to those who have offered mentorship and guidance and, I am even more indebted to the many individuals and organization who have worked on the issues of reentry for years. Their work laid the foundation for the emergence of the Minnesota Second Chance Coalition.”
We hope that the work of the Second Chance Coalition will soon lead to more positive reforms for Minnesotans with criminal records and their families, and in turn our entire community. We hope you will join us.
Below are the mission and principles of the Coalition developing in our second year.
The Minnesota Second Chance Coalition advocates for fair and responsible laws, policies, and practices that allow those who have committed crimes to redeem themselves, fully support themselves and their families, and contribute to their communities to their full potential. The Coalition supports reforms that:
1. ENSURE THAT EVERYONE, REGARDLESS OF MEANS OR BACKGROUND, IS TREATED EQUALLY AND FAIRLY THROUGH EVERY PART OF THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM.
2. MAXIMIZE THE ABILITY OF EX-OFFENDERS TO ACCESS EMPLOYMENT, HOUSING, AND EDUCATION, AND TO BECOME FULLY CONTRIBUTING MEMBERS OF THEIR COMMUNITIES.
3. ENSURE THAT JUVENILE OFFENDERS ARE NOT LIMITED IN THEIR ABILITY TO BECOME SUCCESSFUL ADULTS.
4. FULLY DIAGNOSE AND TREAT MENTAL ILLNESS AND CHEMICAL ADDICTION.
5. LIMIT THE POTENTIALLY ADVERSE IMPACT OF THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM ON CHILDREN AND FAMILIES.
Mark Haase and Sarah Walker, Co-Chairs, Minnesota Second Chance Coalition