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August 01, 2011

EEOC Explores Employers’ Practices Regarding Former Prisoners

The United States will continue to lead the world in recidivism rates if the substantial barriers to employment of ex-offenders are not addressed, ABA witness Stephen Saltzburg told the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) during a July 26 commission meeting.

“Collateral consequences of conviction contribute to the criminal justice system’s reentry challenges,” Saltzburg told the commission, which is holding a series of meetings on the implications of various hiring practices. “While the ABA supports reasonable restrictions on former offenders holding certain jobs where their records would raise genuine issues of public safety, not all collateral employment restrictions resulting from conviction are fair or effective,” he emphasized.

In some instances, Saltzburg explained, collateral bars on employment prevent someone who has been trained by the government at taxpayer expense from taking the very job for which he or she has been trained – which makes no sense at all.” Examples include statutes in every state and the federal code that disqualify people from jobs and licenses based on a criminal record and sweeping policies adopted by some private employers against employing anyone with a criminal record, including those who were arrested but never convicted.

The Criminal Justice Section  currently is working on a research project funded by the National Institute of Justice to develop a state-by-state database of all collateral consequences of convictions that exist nationwide. So far, the Collateral Consequences of Conviction Project has uncovered more than 38,000 statutes containing a collateral consequence, indicating that “employment-related collateral sanctions are widespread and pervasive,” Saltzburg said.

Other work by the ABA in this area include a 2009 project studying federal statutes and regulations as well as the comprehensive national examination of federal and state justice policies conducted in 2003 by the ABA Justice Kennedy Commission. The Commission on Effective Criminal Sanctions expanded on the work of the Justice Kennedy Commission, making numerous recommendations that include opposing automatic barriers to employment and favoring discretionary factors that should be applied on a case-by-case basis.

In his testimony, Saltzburg also recommended legislation to improve the inaccurate federal database used by private and public employers to perform background checks on potential employees.

Also appearing before the commission was Amy Solomon, senior advisor to the assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s Office of Justice Programs. Solomon heads the Reentry Council, a Cabinet-level interagency group convened by Attorney General Eric Holder to examine all aspects of reentry of individuals with criminal records.

“If we want people with past criminal involvement to be able to support themselves, support their families, pay their taxes, and contribute to their communities and the economy, they need to be able to compete for legitimate work opportunities,” she concluded. 

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