NC SECOND CHANCE ALLIANCE BULLETIN: November 2013

November 12, 2013

We are excited to send this seventh edition of the NC Second Chance Alliance Bulletin, an e-newsletter providing updates of our growing movement to break down the barriers facing the thousands of North Carolinians who have criminal records.

As always, we are looking for updates from you—what’s happening in your communities and with your organizations to break down barriers facing those with criminal records? Email updates to danielb@ncjustice.org, and we’ll include them in future newsletters. Also, please visit our regularly updated website: www.ncsecondchance.org.
 
Legislative Roundup

The 2013-2014 legislative long session ended in July, and in this break between the long and short legislative sessions there is much to celebrate. In the long session, the NC Second Chance Alliance hosted our biannual Second Chance Lobby Day. The event was well-attended by directly-impacted individuals, service providers, advocates, and supportive legislators. The event’s success set the tone for the rest of a session in which the Second Chance Alliance and partner organizations successfully expanded legal remedies and protections available to persons with criminal records, including:

  • Reasonable Use of Criminal Records by Licensing Boards (SL 2013-24)
  • Expunction of Prostitution Offenses (SL 2013-368)
  • Prohibit Expunction Inquiry (SL 2013-53)
  • Funding For Additional Staff to Process Expunction Petitions (SL 2013-360)

We successfully spoke out to defeat a Voter ID bill with a felony disenfranchisement provision (Senate Bill 721) and to prevent such a provision from being included in the Voter ID bill that did eventually pass. Please read on for a summary of each of these legislative successes.

Reasonable Use of Criminal Records by Occupational Licensing Boards

Hundreds of occupations in North Carolina require some form of licensure. In fact, these occupations constitute approximately 30 percent of all jobs.  Consequently, over one million North Carolinians—from lawyers and embalmers to plumbers and exterminators—must satisfy statutory and administrative requirements in order to work in their chosen fields.

The vast majority of North Carolina’s occupational licensing statutes give licensing boards and agencies the discretion to deny or revoke licensure based on various types of criminal convictions. These discretionary disqualifications, along with a handful of automatic bars to licensure, often prevent individualized assessments of the risk demonstrated by applicants’ criminal records, resulting in unnecessary denials of licensure. Traditionally, only a small number of these statutes have provided guidance on how to appropriately identify and weigh the risk of an applicant’s inability to satisfy the responsibilities of an occupation based on his prior criminal conduct.

Daniel Bowes and Bill Rowe of the NC Justice Center highlighted this problem in an article for the North Carolina Bar Association Administrative Law Section, “Facilitating Individualized Assessments of Individuals with Criminal Records in Occupational Licensing Decisions.” After hearing about this problem, the General Assembly’s Administrative Procedures Oversight Committee recommended legislation for the 2013 Session that provides guidance to occupational licensing boards in exercising discretion regarding criminal records. The North Carolina General Assembly passed Session Law 2013-24. The new law is now in effect and prohibits licensing boards from automatically disqualifying individuals based on their criminal records, unless required to do so by statute. The law further requires licensing boards to consider 8 factors in weighing their decision, including how long ago the conviction(s) occurred and the nexus between the criminal activity and the duties of the occupation. Since the passage of this law, the NC Second Chance Alliance has worked with licensing boards to ensure their rules and practices are in compliance with this new law. We believe passage of this law and our ongoing partnerships with occupational licensing boards will help individuals with criminal histories move beyond their criminal records and contribute to their communities.

Please take the time to thank the law’s primary sponsor, Senator Hartsell (Fletcher.Hartsell@ncleg.net; (919) 733-7223) and Rep. Tom Murry (Tom.Murry@ncleg.net; (919) 733-5602).

Prohibit Expunction Inquiry

A troublesome and growing trend among North Carolina employers and universities are questions on application forms regarding whether or not applicants have been granted an expunction of their criminal record. Employers are denying applicants based on expunged criminal records and are thereby circumventing North Carolina’s expunction laws. Legislators responded to this trend with Session Law 2013-53 which “prohibit[s] an employer or educational institution from requesting that an application provide information regarding an arrest, criminal charge or criminal conviction of the applicant that has been expunged; and require[s] a state or local government agency to advise an applicant that the applicant is not required to disclose information regarding an arrest, criminal charge, or criminal conviction of the applicant that has been expunged prior to requesting disclosure.” Employers violating this provision are subject to a $500 civil penalty, if they have previously received a warning. The law will go into effect on December 1, 2013.
Please take the time to thank the law’s primary sponsors:

Expunction of Prostitution Offenses

The sponsor of the Safe Harbor of Victims of Human Trafficking Act (SB 683) was receptive of a suggestion to positively amend the bill to meaningfully expand expunction opportunities. The bill originally contained an expunction provision that provided for the expunction of a first-time misdemeanor prostitution offense committed under the age of 18 after three years of good behavior. NCGS 15A-145 already provides for the expunction of a first-time misdemeanor offense committed under the age of 18 after two years of good behavior. The bill was changed to provide for the expunction of first-time prostitution offenses committed at any age.  Please see below for the specific criteria for expunction of a first-time prostitution offense under NCGS 15A-145.6.

  1. Conviction for a prostitution offense.
  2. No prior convictions for any violent misdemeanor or violent misdemeanor.  *Violent felony or violent misdemeanor: “A class A – G felony or a Class A1 misdemeanor that includes assault as an essential element of the offense.”
  3. Satisfies one of the following three criteria: a) Participation in the prostitution offense was a result of having been a trafficking victim; b) The person has no prior convictions for a prostitution offense and at least 3 years have passed since the date of conviction or the completion of any sentence, whichever is later; or c) Petitioner received a conditional discharge pursuant to GS 14-204(b).
  4. No subsequent misdemeanor or felony convictions, other than traffic violations.
  5. No outstanding warrants or pending criminal cases.
  6. No outstanding restitution orders.

Appropriated Funding for Additional SBI Staff to Process Expunction Petitions

Responding to concerns regarding excessive delays in the processing of expunction petitions by the SBI, the Attorney General’s Office requested and the final state budget appropriated funds for five new staff positions in the SBI’s Expunction Unit. The current delays of 6-8 months should dissipate quickly beginning December 1, 2013. The Second Chance Alliance will continue to monitor the situation. You can see the language of the appropriation on page 284 here: Appropriations Act of 2013.  This victory was highlighted in a recent newscast on News Channel 9.

Reentry Resources

According to the Pew Charitable Trust, approximately 1.2 million inmates—or just over half of the incarcerated population—are parents of children under 18.  As a result, there are 2.7 million minor children who currently have a parent in jail or prison. Millions more have a parent struggling with barriers to reentry and are themselves dealing with the stigma of having a parent with a criminal record.

As part of its “Little Children, Big Challenges” series, Sesame Street is tackling the issue of incarceration and its impact on the children of incarcerated parents. The show introduced a new Muppet, Alex, whose father is incarcerated. Alex explains the embarrassment and guilt he feels because of his dad’s incarceration, and is comforted by his friends who explain that he is not alone and should not feel embarrassed or guilty. Watch a clip of Alex here. Sesame Street also provides a toolkit on its website to help caregivers of children of incarcerated parents respond to these same feelings.

For more information on the tool kits or on the issue of parental incarceration generally, please contact Our Children’s Place at ourchildrensplace@gmail.com.

Update on Local Reentry Councils

The NC Second Chance Alliance has been working with the Department of Public Safety to design and establish a network of local reentry councils for several years. Last year we worked with DPS to successfully pass legislation requiring the state to establish a pilot network of these local reentry councils. Over the past year, we’ve continued to work with DPS and other stakeholders as reentry councils were established in Mecklenburg, Buncombe, and Pitt Counties as well as the tri-county areas of Edgecombe/Nash/Wilson and Hoke/Robeson/Scotland. These local reentry councils are now up and running in these communities, with the support of two-full time staff members—a council coordinator and a jobs counselor. They are beginning to develop comprehensive local reentry plans and coordinate the delivery of local services to individuals with criminal histories seeking to reintegrate with their communities. The Second Chance Alliance will continue to work with DPS to ensure the success of these councils, while also helping to establish local reentry councils in other communities across the state.

Mobile Reentry Clinics

Over the last 18 months, the North Carolina Justice Center and Legal Aid of North Carolina have partnered to launch an effort to bring reentry relief to low-income individuals in traditionally under-served rural communities. With the aid of law students from NCCU, UNC, Campbell, and Duke, as well as several law firms, the mobile reentry clinics have visited more than a dozen communities across the state and served hundreds of low-income persons with criminal histories.  At the clinics, law students under the supervision of attorneys, interview clients and review their criminal records to determine if the individuals are eligible for expunction. Clients determined to be eligible for expunction are provided further assistance. For information on upcoming reentry clinics, please visit the Second Chance Alliance’s Alliance Updates webpage.

 
Mug Shot Websites Holding Reputations Hostage
 
A recent focus of the Second Chance Alliance is curbing the exploitative use of mug shots by commercial enterprises, including The Slammer and mugshots.com. Around the country there are growing efforts to prohibit the extortive practices of mug shot websites, which ask for hundreds of dollars to remove mug shots posted on their websites. A recent feature article in the New York Times, Mugged by a Mug Shot Online, has led to even greater scrutiny of the practices of these websites.
North Carolinians across the state are being impacted by these exploitative practices as highlighted in a recent story by WNCN News: Mug Shots Holding Reputations Hostage. Two cases recently brought to the attention of the Second Chance Alliance highlight the unconscionable practices of these websites. Shy (name and face omitted to protect his privacy) is 16 years old and lives in Charlotte. Earlier this year, he was arrested for Armed Robbery. It was a clear case of mistaken identity. The actual perpetrator was soon after arrested and convicted. Leaving the jail after one night, Shy thought that because he had been exonerated within a day of his arrest he would be able to put this ordeal behind him. Instead, he is haunted by this horrible event each time he or anyone else puts his name into Google. His mug shot, posted on justmugshots.com, appears as the very first picture. Clicking on the picture, the page says that he was charged with Armed Robbery earlier this year. It does not explain, nor will it ever explain, that he was cleared of any wrongdoing and the charges dismissed within a day of his arrest. Instead, the site offers to remove the mug shot for “as low as $199.99.” In addition to suffering the stigma of having a criminal history, Shy has been denied job after job based on his mug shot being posted.

Anne-Marie Weatherly was 17 years old and still attending high school in Charlotte when she was arrested for Felony Larceny earlier this year. The arrest stemmed from an incident in which Anne-Marie was, unbeknownst to her, used as an accessory in a larceny by an employee. Within a day of her arrest, Anne-Marie’s mug shot had been posted online. It remained there even as the charge was dismissed. “The case was completely dismissed, but there was no post anywhere saying that it was dropped,” said Anne-Marie recently, “As far as the internet is concerned, I am a ‘felon.’” Even as Anne-Marie graduated near the top of her class and matriculated to UNCG, she could not escape her misleading online reputation. “The day before I moved into campus housing at UNCG, my roommate called me to tell me she couldn’t live with me because she found my mug shot online—I tried to explain the misunderstanding, but by that point it was too late.” Unfortunately, Anne-Marie has continued to spend much of her first semester having to explain the mug shot to friends, acquaintances, and even the Dean of Students. “This whole experience has changed my life negatively and sometimes I worry about my future because of this mug shot.”

In North Carolina, we have a relatively unique opportunity to stop these exploitative practices. As a recent article by the UNC School of Government explains, mug shots are not public documents under North Carolina’s public records law. Accordingly, custodians of these records—local sheriffs and police chiefs— may limit their availability. The second largest jail in South Carolina recently made such a move.

The Second Chance Alliance is currently reaching out to Sheriff’s Departments around the state to advocate for limiting the availability of mug shots to these commercial enterprises. We are also exploring the opportunity to prohibit this type of extortion through legislation at the General Assembly.
 
Alliance in the News

Member Spotlight: Benevolence Farm

The mission of Benevolence Farm is as eloquent as it is simple. “To provide an opportunity for women leaving prison to live and work on a farm where they grow food, nourish self, and foster community.” And with the huge fundraising success of the Inaugural Second Chance Dine & Dance in October, Benevolence Farm moved one step closer to achieving this mission.

Stable housing and gainful employment are critical for the successful transition of women returning from prison. Benevolence Farm seeks to fulfill this crucial need in North Carolina through an innovative social-enterprise based program.

Benevolence Farm will provide a transitional living program for up to 12 women leaving North Carolina prisons. Its founders recognize that change must come from within, but can be cultivated and inspired through a supportive, natural environment. "Our goal is to give our participants the time and space — figuratively and literally — to make real, lasting changes," said Tanya Jisa, founder and executive director of Benevolence Farm.

Participants will develop skills in sustainable farming, small business practices, food preparation and presentation in an environment that fosters improved physical, spiritual and financial health. Residents will actively contribute to the wellbeing of the farm, staking a claim in the program’s — and more importantly their own — success.

The program is intended to become partially self-supporting through the production and sale of sustainably grown produce and products, thereby ensuring that the program continues to serve as many women as possible. Benevolence Farm is unique in combining a sustainable environment with a holistic social service mission thereby creating a mutually beneficial relationship enabling the healing of people with and through caring for the earth.

To learn more about Benevolence Farm, please visit their website at www.benevolencefarm.org.
 

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