“A Plan to Cut Costs and Crime: End Hurdle to Job After Prison” – NY Times

"Marilyn Scales, 52, of New York, who spent time in prison for selling drugs in the 1990s, said that telling the truth on job applications had made her virtually unemployable. 'When I answer that question honestly,' she said, 'I never get a call back.'" Photo taken from: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/24/us/a-plan-to-cut-costs-and-crime-curb-bias-against-ex-convicts.html?smid=fb-share&_r=0

Photo taken from: NY Times

“When I answer that question honestly, I never get a call back,” she said. “I feel like I’m still paying for my crimes 20 years later.”

Marilyn Scales, 52, a New York City resident convicted of selling drugs in the 1990s, says that telling the truth on job forms had made her virtually unemployable, even though she was released from prison 17 years ago.

On Thursday, October 23rd, an article called “A Plan to Cut Costs and Crime: End Hurdle to Job After Prison,” was published by the New York Times.  This article discussed the barriers within employment after being released from prison and the goals of the Ban the Box laws.  The article focuses on the personal experiences of several people with criminal records that are prevented from moving on with their lives after serving their sentences and even after decades of being back in society. They describe James White – a man who was turned down for a job as a hospital janitor, immediately after checking the box to mark that he had been convicted of a crime–despite the fact that he had only been convicted of possessing a handgun without a license, 10 years earlier, and had never served jail time.

This summer, Washington’s city council took a step towards positive change by approving the Ban the Box laws, legislation that will forbid public (and some private) employers from asking about criminal history on a job application and running criminal background checks until after the initial steps.  This legislation will also include movements to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana, to expunge the criminal records of nonviolent offenders, and to reassess parole and probation rules.  Washington; Illinois; Nebraska; New Jersey; Indianapolis; Louisville, Kentucky; New Orleans; Minnesota; Massachusetts; and San Francisco are all states and cities that have adopted the Ban the Box laws within the past four years.  Legislation like Ban the Box is vital in easing the re-entry process and will help to de-marginalize people, especially disproportionate numbers of African-Americans.  This legislation will also aid the cut of corrections costs being forced in many cities and states across the country.

Finding a solution to the lack of opportunity for people with a criminal conviction history and to the increased recidivism rates has become an urgent issue, as one in three American adults have been arrested throughout their lives and the United States has the largest prison population in the world. People who are forced to check the box, admitting that they have a criminal conviction history, are far more likely to be turned down for jobs; although, past research has shown that people with a criminal record are no more likely to commit a crime in their workplace than people without a criminal record.  Early research surveys conducted show that fewer job applicants with a criminal history have been rejected in cities that have passed Ban the Box legislation.

 “If we are going to block their path and not give them options to reintegrate — if they can’t get a job and the opportunity to earn a livelihood — what alternative do they have?” said Jim Scheer, a Republican state senator from Nebraska who describes himself as tough on crime but was still an outspoken advocate of the state’s Ban the Box law, approved 46-to-0 in April.

Root & Rebound has spoken about Ban the Box in earlier posts, celebrating the passing of AB 109 which now prevents public employers in CA from asking questions about a person’s convictions from their initial job applications and companies like Target which are also ‘banning the box’ on their application forms. We are excited to see more cities and states take legal action to reduce employment barriers for people with criminal records, to ensure they can become productive, fulfilled members of society upon release.

*See Root & Rebound’s Guide for Employers to find out more about the legal shift that is taking place to promote the hiring of people with records and all of the laws and best practices that employers should follow to protect every job applicant’s civil rights and privacy rights. The guide also provides useful advice for employers on how to take care of their companies by mitigating general risk and purchasing insurance, and how to utilize the benefits and incentives offered to employers who hire people with criminal records.

Criminal Justice/Reentry Events coming up this Fall!

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There are always new and unique opportunities to get involved and stay educated about incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people, their experiences, and the ways in which we can all advocate for change in the US criminal justice system. We at Root & Rebound encourage you to stay connected to all the amazing Bay Area community orgs, helping address the multiple needs of people in reentry as well as fighting for their rights to be upheld, by attending events and spreading the word — Your support is so vital in pushing this movement forward!

  • “Sentenced: Architecture and Human Rights,” is opening in Berkeley on October 14th from 6:00pm-8:00pm at the Wurster Hall Gallery, UC Berkeley. It is an exhibit about the architecture of incarceration featuring photographs by artist Richard Ross, drawings of solitary confinement cells by people currently being held inside, and rarely seen designs for execution chambers built in the US. The exhibit highlights problematic and little-known spaces within United States prisons and detention centers that house activities deemed to violate human rights. The opening event on the evening of October 14th will include drinks, snacks, and a dialogue about the material on display with author Sara Shourd, Professor Jill Stoner, and architect John MacAllister.  The exhibit will be held through November 21st, and is free and open to the public during campus hours.
  • Mark your calendars for Saturday, November 15, 11:30am-3:30pm if you want to have the extraordinary opportunity of coming inside San Quentin to attend Brothers in Pen Annual Public Reading!  This is a reading of works by the Creative Writing class inside San Quentin.  Each member of the class will read a 5-minute piece and there will be time for Q&A. These readings are engaging, lively and unforgettable. If you are interested in attending, please contact Zoe M. via email at zoe@churchofthesojourners.org by October 15 (to give plenty of time for clearances). And don’t forget to pass the word to anyone you think might be interested!

– The R&R Team

CA governor signed SB 1384 – eliminating automatic denials of a nursing license because of a criminal record!

On Monday, we received news from Senator Mitchell’s office that the Governor signed Senate Bill 1384!  Introduced by state Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, and sponsored by Equal Rights Advocates, SB1384 reforms impenetrable barriers to becoming a certified nursing assistant – paving a path to stable, living-wage jobs for  men and women with records who are qualified and ready to work.

SB 1384 will eliminate the automatic denial of a nursing license for people with past criminal convictions. It will provide all CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) applicants with a review of their criminal record, recognizing that certain conditions–like the passage of time and no subsequent convictions–constitutes actual evidence of rehabilitation; thereby expanding opportunities for qualified, rehabilitated individuals to access higher paying jobs.

SB 1384 will provide employment opportunities, which will reduce recidivism and encouraging successful reintegration-as employment decreases the likelihood of recidivism by as much as 62%.  This is a particularly significant step for women (many of whom are the primary caregiver for dependent children) whose employment as a CNA would help to provide food, housing, and other necessities for their family.

SB 1384 protects public safety by preserving the discretion to deny a CNA application where there is evidence that the individual has not rehabilitated.  And most importantly, it gives CNA applicants with a criminal record a chance to be evaluated on the basis of their record and all evidence of rehabilitation.

Read more about SB1384 here: in an op-ed, written by ERA project attorney Natalie Lyons and CA Sen. Holly Mitchell, which first appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on August 6, 2014.

Also, ERA made a powerful video series, called “Let Her Work,” which brings the previous restrictions to life by telling the stories of three women with previous criminal convictions struggling to overcome barriers to employment. See here for more about the ‘Let Her Work’ initiative.

We hope SB 1384 will pave the way for reform in California — we are so excited to see where this powerful move takes us!
Thank you, so much, to everyone who supported this great bill!

– The R&R Team