Eliminating Barriers-Part 2

on Saturday - August 22, 2015.

Here's more from the "One Strike and You're Out" report from The Center for American Progress which highlights several key statistics:

  • 70 - 100 million Americans now have a criminal record (nearly 1 in 3 people)
  • mass incarceration and the collateral consequences of a criminal record are tightly linked to the poverty rate in the US; one study estimated that the US poverty rate would have dropped by 20% in the last two decades of the 20th century if it weren't for these impacts
  • the costs of mass incarceration to the American economy have been estimated in a variety of ways, including a negative impact on the nation's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of up to $65 Billion annually due to "the cost of employment losses among people with criminal records"
  • America spends over $80 Billion per year on mass incarceration - and these are funds that are then NOT available for things like education, healthcare, infrastructure and other resources that could contribute to a better quality of life in communities

The report includes this quote from the "My Brother's Keeper Task Force":

"We should implement reforms to promote successful reentry, including encouraging hiring practices, such as “Ban the Box,” which give[s] applicants a fair chance and allows employers the opportunity to judge individual job candidates on their merits as they reenter the workforce."

Among its many recommendations, the report outlines several ideas for "fair chance" hiring practices:

1) Remove questions about an applicant's criminal record from job applications (commonly known as "Ban the box") and only do a background check once the employer is seriously considering hiring the job applicant

2) Completely eliminate and even prohibit questions about arrests that didn't result in a criminal conviction

3) Let jobseekers review and verify the accuracy of any information about them that comes up on a background check

4) Provide opportunities for jobseekers to share information about the positive efforts they have made to improve themselves

 

Eliminating Barriers-Part 1

on Saturday - August 15, 2015.

Eliminating Barriers-Part 1

A new report from The Center for American Progress, titled "One Strike and You're Out" indicates that as many as one in three Americans now has a criminal record, and these criminal records result in a wide range of collateral consequences that limit employment, access to housing, parental rights, voting rights, access to public benefits and a variety of other restrictions and limitations.  

According to the report, "Today, a criminal record serves as both a direct cause and consequence of poverty." (Vallas and Dietrich, December 2014, p. 1)  The report also points out that for many people, their criminal record is for minor offenses or for an arrest for which they were never convicted. Yet, even when the details of someone's criminal record are clearly not for serious or violent offenses, the collateral consequences of that record can impact a person's life in myriad ways, often for many years or even decades after the offense occurred.

Says the report, "The lifelong consequences of having a criminal record - and the stigma that accompanies one - stand in stark contrast to research on 'redemption' that documents that once an individual with a prior nonviolent conviction has stayed crime free for three to four years, that person's risk of recidivism is no different from the risk of arrest for the general population. Put differently, people are treated as criminals long after they pose any significant risk of committing further crimes - making it difficult for many to move on with their lies and achieve basic economic security, let alone have a shot at upward mobility." (Vallas and Dietrich, December 2014, p. 2) 

The Center's report maps out clear strategies and recommendations for employers, education providers, local government agencies and others to take action to address these collateral consequences to "ensure that a criminal record does not consign an individual to a  life of poverty."

Over the coming weeks, we will be publishing a series of articles on the recommendations mapped out in this report.

The Center for American Progress is "a nonpartisan research and educational institute dedicated to promoting a strong, just, and free America that ensures opportunity for all."

In Their Own Words - Participants' Voices - Letter from a Client

on Wednesday - August 12, 2015.

We received this email from a client who has successfully completed the RMO Intensive program . . .

"I just wanted to thank you for ALL the help, support, encouragement and guidance that You and all the others provided for me, ultimately loving and caring about me until I could learn to love and care about myself and then in turn learn to love and care about others. I sincerely appreciate all of it as well as all of you....THANK YOU! IN CLOSING I am working for two construction companies owned by the same person which enables "us" his employees to cover a wide array of job descriptions, so me being able there best worker I am a pretty busy guy. Please send my love and regards to all.
Sincerely,
L"

New National Report on Fines, Costs, Restitution Proposes Solutions to "Debt Penalty"

on Monday - August 10, 2015.

Researchers at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice Research & Evaluation Center have just published an in-depth report titled "The Debt Penalty: Exposing the Financial Barriers to Offender Reintegration." The report explores the various types of fines, fees, restitution and other financial obligations placed on offenders, the purposes of these obligations, the various approaches employed to collect on these debts, reasons offenders don't pay, the penalties associated with non-payment, the hidden costs to both the legal system and offenders of common debt collection practices, and the effects of criminal debt, including a variety of consequences related to employment, education, housing and other aspects of life for offenders upon release from incarceration.  

The report also explores connections between criminal debt and recidivism.

The report provides statistics and information from various states around the US (including some from Pennsylvania)

The report then proposes a variety of solutions that criminal justice entities can employ to "increase the likelihood of payment whil lessening the financial burden on offenders." These solutions include improved practices for setting fee amounts, prioritization of fees, tracking debt, improving restitution collection, improving child suppport collection, processes for offenders to "earn back" their eligibility for certain types of public assistance, and alternatives to incarceration for non-payment.

An executive summary is available at: 

http://www.justicefellowship.org/sites/default/files/The%20Debt%20Penalty_Executive%20Summary_Justice%20Fellowship.pdf

The full, 20-page report is available here:

http://justicefellowship.org/sites/default/files/The%20Debt%20Penalty_John%20Jay_August%202014.pdf 

In Their Own Words - Participants' Voices - Letter from a Client

on Monday - May 18, 2015.

We recently received this letter from a client in our Reentry Employment Program at PA CareerLink of Lancaster County:

Finding employment in today's economic climate is a daunting task for a "normal" person with "normal" challenges. The difficulties in securing an interview, let alone a job offer, are exponentially increased for an ex-offender who was incarcerated for five years in a state correctional institution. I felt as though I had a Scarlet Letter attached to my back.

Having never been a fan of "government" or "government-related" programs, I was not initially enthusiastic about the prospects of the Re-entry Program at the Lancaster County Career Link. T.A.B.E. test? Aced that in prison. Complete a video course about showing up to work on time, properly groomed and attired? Common sense. How are those things going to assist me in my job search? I must humbly admit I was wrong . . .