February 26, 2016

Safer Policy Institute Weekly Update

Weekly Update
  • Negligent Hiring Liability-  Illinois Policy Institute's new report makes recommendations to ease employment on reentry. Negligent-hiring liability protection is an important one.
  •  Numbers and more -  The Alliance for a Just Society released a new report Job After Jail: Ending the Prison to Poverty Pipeline; JPMorgan Chase discuss summer youth employment; as does President Obama in the context of his newly announced initiative; two federal bills seek to amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 in favor of leniency and access.
  • Essays, research, events and calls to action- If you'd like to circulate any calls-to-action, articles, events we'd be happy to feature them here. You can send the material to asawari.sodhi@saferfoundation.org anytime before Friday. Thank you!

This week a breakfast panel organized by ACLU and Illinois Policy Institute convened to discuss criminal justice reform and next steps for the Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform. They were joined by John Maki, Executive Director of the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority.

The discussion was prefaced by Lisa Creason. Creason was convicted of  robbery at 20. After her release she held some odd jobs, then invested in herself. She went to school for nursing and has since worked as a Certified Nursing Assistant. Self sufficient, she was glad to  have weaned herself off public support. 

It wasn't easy for her. It is much harder for others. Creason said that every year, many of the 30,000 people released from state prison and 70,000 from Cook County jail return to an eighth of the support that she had. And often returning and reentering boils down to going hungry or going back to what they know. "If we put in the work, and we do the work, why can't we work."

That's a perennial discussion in corrections: what's just enough punishment or how to abide by, what Maki called the principle of parsimony. Then there's the question of rehabilitation, a particularly pressing one when poverty and incarceration becomes generational. For instance 62 per cent of prison inmates report having a child, shared Bryant Jackson-Green, Criminal Justice Policy Analyst at the Illinois Policy Institute. But to set things right, Maki noted that we need only look to our own (USA's) tradition. The US can be its own example. Here mass incarceration and not restorative justice is unprecedented. 

So the first set of Commission recommendations lays the ground for structural and cultural overhaul that can be implemented without the legislature. Briefly, the Commission recommends alternatives to incarceration for very short sentences (report 1 explains that annually 10,000 people go to prison only to be released within a year), increasing the use of probation via judicial discretion, expanding programming credit and improving targeting, inter-agency coordination and information exchange. Now the Commission has moved on to hairier issues like truth-in-sentencing and sentence enhancements. 

On such issues legislators tend to be risk-averse, perhaps even paranoid. Public opinion has shifted in favor of less punitive sentences. In a statewide poll published by ACLU, 78 per cent of all voters were in favor of reclassifying drug possession of a small amount from a felony to a misdemeanor. Earlier this month Pew too published a similar poll for federal sentencing. From these results it's easy to agree with Ben Ruddell, Criminal Justice Policy Attorney, ACLU Illinois, when he says that constituents are far ahead of their legislators on these matters. 

Even though policy won't budge until politics do, the Commission recommendations lend their heft to some important bills - SB 3294 (Sen. Raoul), SB 3368 (Sen. McConnaughay)/HB 5959 (Rep. Cabello), HB 5666 (Rep. Sims). Amongst them, they cover electronic monitoring, sentencing credit and state issued IDs for the newly released.

In order to move forward successfully it would be necessary for the community to a) signal public support for these bills by calling their legislators, b) attend/participate in ongoing Commission discussions, c) preemptively signal support for ambitious sentencing reform by calling legislators.

Here's material from the Commission meetings. 

Panel footage here.

Block_2Business-friendly business

If having a criminal record is any predictor of employment prospects, which it is, an Illinois Policy Institute report explains why. The debt never paid: How to reform a broken criminal-justice system that prevents ex-offenders from achieving self-sufficiency makes a case for reentry and employment reform by means of sealing expansion beyond certain nonviolent Class 3 and 4 offenses, business-liability protection reform and limited use of criminal records in occupational licensing.
Negligent-hiring liability most certainly makes employers wary of hiring people with a criminal history. The report cites data wherein 52 per cent in an employer survey said that they conducted background checks for fear of negligent-hiring liability. This is why certificates of relief from disability covering 27 occupations serve not only as evidence of rehabilitation but carry negligent-hiring liability protection. And currently these certificates are  the only guarantee of protection from such lawsuits. 

The report recommends that employers' due diligence in hiring - considering relevance of criminal history to job, time elapsed etc.- should protect businesses from lawsuits for hiring people with a criminal record. It recommends passing legislation that "limits an employer's liability for hiring an offender with a record to cases in which:

* The employer knew of the conviction or was grossly negligent in not knowing of the conviction, and
*The conviction was directly related to the nature of the employee's or dependent contractor's work and the conduct that gave rise to the alleged injury that is the basis for the suit."

Because involuntary unemployment is expensive. The Center for Economic and Policy Research found that in 2008 lower levels of employment due to criminal records cost the US around 0.4-0.5 percentage points of the GDP or around $57 billion to $65 billion in economic output (in The debt never paid).

A 2010 ABA state by state survey of negligent hiring liability.

Illinois' job gap ratio (jobs to seekers)

% summer youth employment slots

* President Obama announced the Summer Opportunity Project for young, novice summer job seekers. 

*Two federal bills seek to reinstate financial aid eligibility for people with a drug related violation. HR 3561: Fair Access to Education Act of 2015 (Oregon US Rep. Blumenauer) excludes marijuana-related offenses from those that disqualify a person from receiving federal education assistance. S 2557: Stopping Unfair Collateral Consequences from Ending Student Success Act (Pennsylvania US Sen. Bob Casey and Utah US Sen. Orrin Hatch) amends the Higher Education Act of 1965 to repeal language on drug related offense- based ineligibility for federal education assistance. 

Removing Barriers to Employment

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Public Policy and External Relations Contacts
Victor Dickson, President and CEO
B. Diane Williams, President Emeritus
Sodiqa Williams, AVP, Policy and Strategy
Anthony Lowery, Director, Policy and Advocacy
Asawari Sodhi, Fellow, Safer Policy Institute
* Many articles refer to people with criminal records as "ex-offenders" or "offenders". While we appreciate all the positive press these issues receive, we are working to use other terms to describe our clients that do not carry such negative connotations. These terms include "people with criminal records" or "people reentering society".

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