Once shunned, people convicted of felonies find more employers open to hiring them

Image source: Mel Melcon, Los Angeles Times (All Rights Reserved)

According to this Los Angeles Times article, all across the country, as the economy surges and employers struggle to find enough workers, individuals with felony and other criminal records are finding a sliver of a silver lining in the dark cloud of the pandemic.

Journalist Don Lee reports that, in the summer of 2021, U.S. employers reported an unprecedented 10.9 million job openings. That, Lee says, was equal to more than one job for every unemployed person in the country.

In response, a growing number of companies are beginning to tap into a huge, largely ignored labor pool: the roughly 20 million Americans, mostly men and many unemployed, who have felony convictions.

Read more about increased efforts to hire individuals with a criminal record

Webinar: Growing Momentum for Clean Slate and Fair Chance Licensing in the States

In an April 2021 event, the Center for American Progress, National Employment Law Project, and Community Legal Services of Philadelphia hosted a conversation with several of the state leaders behind recent transformative policy wins that offer a model for state and federal policymakers to put second chances within reach for workers and families facing the stigma of a criminal record.

The event highlighted that, in recognition that a criminal record should not be a life sentence to poverty and joblessness, bipartisan momentum for both “clean slate” automatic record clearance and fair chance licensing has exploded in recent years, with dozens of states advancing these policy reforms to remove barriers to economic security for their justice-impacted residents. As leaders at all levels of government work to “build back better,” removing barriers to employment for workers with records is even more urgently needed amid the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and downturn to ensure not only a full but an equitable recovery that does not leave tens of millions of justice-impacted individuals and families behind.

The event was moderated by Rebecca Vallas, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress and featured distinguished guests Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist of Michigan as well as panelists:

Rep. Jordan Harris (D), Minority Whip, Pennsylvania General Assembly
Sharon Dietrich, Litigation Director, Community Legal Services of Philadelphia
Josh Hoe, Policy Analyst, Safe and Just Michigan
Whitley Carpenter, Criminal Justice Staff Attorney, Forward Justice
Jael Myrickr, Interim Director, Clean Slate Practice, East Bay Community Law Center

Access the recorded event from the Center for American Progress

More States Consider Automatic Criminal Record Expungement

Image source: Anna Nichols, The Associated Press (All Rights Reserved) 

A May 2021 Stateline article from The Pew Charitable Trusts reveals that a growing number of states are trying to ease the burden of criminal records expungement and record clearing by making the process automatic, without requiring any action by the people seeking to clear their records. About 1 in 3 U.S. adults, some 70 million people, have a criminal record, including those who were arrested but not convicted. The article’s author asserts that these records have long-lasting consequences that can hinder a person’s access to employment, housing or a professional license.

According to the article, many people who are eligible fail to get their records cleared because the process can be costly and complicated. The article points to a 2020 study by two University of Michigan law professors found 90% of those eligible in Michigan don’t apply. A key reason for this, the author asserts, is that, in states that allow for certain criminal records to be sealed or expunged but don’t have an automatic process, people must file a petition in court, which is complicated and expensive. Then the courts must process each petition individually.

As of May 2021, Stateline found a dozen bills introduced across 10 states this year that push for automatic clearing, expungement or sealing of criminal records. Supporters say these bills are necessary to get millions of people back to work, but critics argue that sealing criminal records could threaten public safety.

Learn more about efforts in Virginia, Texas, Michigan and beyond in Stateline

Chicago Hosts Second Chance Hiring Event

In celebration of Second Chance Month 2021, The Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership (The Partnership) hosted a one-of-a-kind virtual event to discuss the business case for “second chance” hiring: “A Hire Calling.” The event featured nationally known CEOs and people who have created thriving careers post-incarceration and included the premiere of “The Road Home,” a short feature video and a “fireside chat” featuring “second chance” expert and author Jeff Korzenik and Master of Ceremonies David Snyder, CEO and President of Economic Club of Chicago President. The Partnership’s CEO and host, Karin M. Norington-Reaves, opened the event by setting the stage for the unique, important dialogue and presentation:

“Data shows that 60% of people incarcerated in Illinois return to 15 communities in Cook County and 12 zip codes in Chicago. The need to ensure that these individuals receive access to resources, including employment training and job placement, is more critical than ever before.”

The Partnership, the non-profit organization that operates the largest public workforce network in the nation, serves Chicago and Cook County. In collaboration with Cook County’s Justice Advisory Council (JAC), The Partnership created the Cook County Coordinated Reentry Council and held eight months of convenings resulting in recommendations for systemic changes to the region’s reentry system. This effort includes The Reentry Navigation Initiative: The Road Home, a 22-month demonstration project intended to address people’s holistic needs upon returning to Cook County from incarceration in Illinois’ penal institutions. This initiative includes an emphasis on workforce development, occupational training, and permanent unsubsidized job placement.

Learn more about the Partnership’s “A Hire Calling” events and efforts to increase second chance hiring

JPMorgan Chase & Company’s Jamie Dimon Talks Second Chance Hiring

In an August 2021 opinion guest essay in The New York Times, JPMorgan Chase & Company chairman and chief executive Jamie Dimon expresses his “moral outrage” for the more than 70 million Americans with an arrest or criminal record that face financial, legal and logistical roadblocks that prevent them from securing good jobs after after they have paid their debt to society. He points to the fact that nearly half of formerly incarcerated people are unemployed one year after leaving prison.

“This group is ready to work and deserves a second chance — an opportunity to fill the millions of job openings across the country. Yet our criminal justice system continues to block them from doing so.”

In the essay, Dimon discusses the steps JPMorgan Chase & Company have taken to help overcome some of these barriers, including “banning the box” asking about a candidate’s criminal or arrest records on initial job applications, establishing a Second Chance hiring program, that provides legal services, job search support and mentorship, and partnered with other employers like Accenture, CVS, Eaton, General Motors, McDonald’s, Microsoft, Verizon and Walmart to form the Second Chance Business Coalition, which allows businesses to develop and share best practices and test new approaches to help support the hiring and advancement of people with criminal backgrounds.

“In part because of these efforts, we hired approximately 2,100 people with a criminal background in 2020 — roughly 10 percent of our new hires in the United States that year.”

Despite these highlights in the corporate world, Dimon expresses that “to create real systemic change, we need better public policy.” He points to the various forms of “Clean Slate” legislation making their way through Congress and U.S. state capitals, aimed at helping clear or seal eligible criminal records, open access to jobs and increase earnings by about 20 percent. He points also to the great progress states like Pennsylvania, Utah, Michigan, New Jersey, Virginia, Connecticut and Delaware have made in passing or enacting similar bipartisan clean slate legislation but contends that C.E.O.s and community leaders must urge more states and the federal government to pursue similar legislative solutions.

Read Dimon’s full essay in The New York Times

Trending Topics: How Process Affects Access to Record Clearance

By CSG Justice Center Staff

For the millions of people who have criminal and juvenile delinquency records in states across the U.S., record clearance can improve access to employment, housing, and education, among other benefits. But while every state allows some records to be cleared, the process varies depending on the state, the charges, and the type of information involved. In most situations, the person with a record has to file a petition in the court where the case was heard. In other circumstances, a judge has the power to clear a record without first receiving a petition. Where the process is more burdensome, fewer eligible people succeed in getting their records cleared.

In some cases, however, records c­­­an be cleared automatically—meaning that clearance occurs according to a procedure laid out in state law, without a petition by the person with a record or any review by a judge or prosecutor. Automatic record clearance is an efficient process, as it requires very little effort by court personnel, meaning it saves tax dollars. It also saves those who are eligible the time, effort, and expense involved in getting legal advice, filing a petition, paying a fee, and appearing in court. Below is an overview of the processes states use to clear records and the effect these processes have on how many people can access the benefits of record clearance.

Petition-based clearance

Petition-based record clearance involves filing a petition, and often paying a fee, usually in the court that originally handled the case. In some states, even before filing a petition in court, a person must get a certificate of eligibility to begin the record clearance process. For instance, in Florida, a person seeking to seal or expunge a record of arrest must first apply to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for a certificate of eligibility to show that they meet all statutory criteria for sealing or expungement. The application must be accompanied by a $75 fee, a set of fingerprints taken by authorized law enforcement personnel, and a certified document showing the criminal charges are no longer pending. In Kentucky, a person seeking expungement of court and arrest records must first request a certification of eligibility from the administrative office of the courts and pay $40 for processing. If granted, the certification of eligibility is valid for just 30 days. Then, within those 30 days, the person must submit the certification and an expungement petition to the court. These additional steps require a person with a record to spend substantial time, effort, and money. That time, effort, and money can discourage and even prevent eligible people from pursuing record clearance.

Judge-initiated clearance

In certain situations, no petition is required because a judge may clear a record without the person with a record having to file any documents. This is most commonly authorized at the end of a pretrial diversion or deferred judgment program. For example, in California, the records of a case dismissed after successful completion of a drug diversion program or deferred judgment may be sealed by the presiding judge immediately. Similarly, in Texas, records of a case dismissed after successful completion of a veterans treatment court program may be expunged by the judge immediately or at any time within 30 days of program completion. Such processes save time and resources compared with petition-based processes, but still require the participation of a judge and, in some instances, a defense lawyer and a prosecutor who may present arguments supporting and opposing clearance.

Automatic clearance

In contrast, automatic record clearance is typically done without the need for an adversarial process. If a person has a record that is eligible for clearance, the process is completed without the person having to pay money or convince a judge. For instance, when the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole issues a pardon, it also issues an expungement order to all criminal justice agencies that have the person’s record. This order has the same authority and effect as an order of expungement issued by a court, without involving a judge. When a North Carolina prosecutor moves to dismiss charges against someone named as a defendant because of identity theft or mistaken identity, the judge automatically includes an order expunging all official records of the charges. In Maine, whenever a case ends without a conviction, all related records immediately become confidential and cannot be disclosed, except in specific circumstances.

Some statutes set up systems that start automatically, so the person with the record need not initiate the process, but prosecutors or other officials are allowed to step in and oppose clearance. Nevada law provides an example of this type of clearance system. If a defendant has a mental illness or intellectual disability, the presiding judge can suspend proceedings and place the defendant on probation. If the defendant successfully completes probation, the judge dismisses the case. The judge then orders the record sealed, as the statute directs, unless the Division of Parole and Probation petitions the judge not to do so and requests a hearing. In situations such as these, the process is automatic, but clearance is not mandatory.

In uncontroversial cases where charges ended in dismissal, acquittal, or a conviction for a low-level offense, record clearance that is automatic and mandatory can serve many more people than a petition-based process. An analysis by the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office concluded that 22 percent of all convictions in Pennsylvania from January 1, 2003 to November 1, 2008 would be sealed as a result of the state’s automatic record-sealing law, the Clean Slate Act. In such a system, people whose records are eligible to be cleared do not have to know of their eligibility or follow a potentially complex process to its conclusion. They do not have to hire a lawyer or pay a fee, which can be unaffordable for people whose income is depressed because of a criminal record. When access is designed into the system, the reach of record clearance can be enormous.

For more information on automatic record clearance, see Clean Slate Campaign Targets Record Clearance “Gap” in States and Pennsylvania Becomes First State in Nation to Automate Record Sealing.

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