NC SECOND CHANCE BULLETIN: April 2016

April 28, 2016

We are excited to send this edition of the NC Second Chance Alliance Bulletin, an e-newsletter providing updates of our growing movement to break down the barriers facing North Carolinians with criminal records. Below you will find information on:

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 website: www.ncsecondchance.org.

Mecklenburg County, Asheville, and Wake County BAN THE BOX

In 2016, approximately 23,000 North Carolinians will be released from prison and return to communities across North Carolina.  These men and women will join more than 1.5 million North Carolinians with prior criminal justice involvement. A common experience among these community members is striving to be a productive, law-abiding citizen, only to be automatically excluded from gainful employment based on a negative criminal history. Such automatic exclusions are often based on minor, long-ago, or unrelated convictions that are not relevant to an applicant’s suitability for the job position. Rather than ensuring community safety, unnecessary exclusions based on superficially broad criteria deprive individuals—particularly men and women of color—of the ability to provide for themselves and their families lawfully.  Ultimately, this isolation from employment opportunities facilitates a revolving-door criminal justice system that drains community resources, undermines community safety, wastes human capital, and fails those who have paid their debts to society.

Elected officials in communities across North Carolina are beginning to recognize the high costs of these barriers and take action. Several communities—including our state’s two largest counties—have recently established fair chance hiring policies for local employment. In January, a coalition of directly-impacted individuals and reentry service providers persuaded the Asheville City Council to eliminate any question about criminal convictions from most job applications.  In March, Mecklenburg County Commissioners voted unanimously to remove criminal record inquiries from the county’s initial employment application. Just last week, Wake County became the 11th local government in North Carolina to “Ban the Box” when Wake County Commissioners unanimously passed a fair chance hiring ordinance with strong support from directly-impacted individuals, local congregations, and reentry service providers (public comments begin at 47:50).

The effect of these reforms is that qualified candidates for public employment will no longer be automatically disqualified by their criminal records. In Wake County, for example, a criminal background check will only be conducted once an applicant has been identified as the most qualified candidate and recommended for hire. The ordinance specifies several factors that must be considered when an applicant’s criminal background is finally examined, including the nature and circumstances of the criminal offense, the age of the individual at the time of the offense, the connection between the criminal offense and the specific job position, and evidence of rehabilitation. If a recommendation for employment is withdrawn based on an applicant’s criminal history, the applicant is provided an opportunity to dispute the accuracy of the criminal history and/or provide evidence that the criminal history is not relevant to the specific job. By delaying and then directing consideration of an applicant’s criminal record, fair chance hiring policies facilitate an individualized review of each applicant’s suitability for employment. The basic premise of these policies is that a criminal record matters, but it should not be the only thing that matters.

Across the nation, fair chance hiring policies have strong bipartisan support because they ensure that talent is not being overlooked and that the most qualified person for the position is hired. Nineteen states and more than 100 municipalities have adopted “ban the box” policies. Voicing his support for New Jersey’s Ban the Box policy, Governor Chris Christie said, “Today, we are banning the box and ending employment discrimination. And this is going to make a huge difference for folks who have paid their debts to society, who want to start their lives over again and are going to have an opportunity to do just that in our state.”

Corporate giants, such as Koch Industries, Target, and Wal-Mart, are banning the box and adopting fair chance hiring policies because they recognize these policies improve the quality of their workforce and are good for business. Mark Holden of Koch Industries explained, “As a large United States-based manufacturing company that employs 60,000 American workers, we should not be rejecting people at the very start of the hiring process who may otherwise be capable and qualified, and want an opportunity to work hard.”

It is our hope that Alliance members across the state will initiate local campaigns to establish fair chance hiring policies in your communities. Please reach out to Daniel Bowes at danielb@ncjustice.org for informational materials that can be used in local advocacy efforts.

The NC Second Chance Alliance is also advocating for the adoption of fair chance hiring policies for public employment with the State of North Carolina.

National Reentry Week

The United States Department of Justice has designated this week—April 24-30, 2016—as National Reentry Week. This is done in recognition of the substantial barriers and collateral consequences that individuals face upon returning home. The week is meant to raise awareness and signify a commitment from the federal government to seriously address reentry issues with meaningful policy changes.

The USDOJ has been working with the Federal Interagency Reentry Council (and the NC Second Chance Alliance’s own Daryl Atkinson) to reduce policy barriers to successful reentry, opening up opportunities in education, job placement, housing, and healthcare. In addition, during National Reentry Week, the Bureau of Prisons will be coordinating events at their facilities and across the country—from job fairs, to practice interviews, to mentorship programs, to events for children of incarcerated parents—to help prepare inmates for release.

The week also includes events for attorneys and advocates. U.S. Attorney’s Offices across the country are hosting meetings between local reentry stakeholders and employer roundtables to promote and direct discussion of this important issue.

For event highlights, please visit www.justice.gov/reentry/reentry-week.

In commemoration of National Reentry Week, President Obama focused his weekly address on the importance of building a fairer, more effective criminal justice system that is more supportive of reentry.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina hosted the Reentry and Crime Prevention Conference: A Strategic Initiative to Foster Community Partnerships on Thursday, April 28, 2016, at the SBI auditorium in Raleigh. Acting United States Attorney John Stuart Bruce welcomed a large crowd of state and federal officials, reentry service providers, advocates, citizens with criminal records, and concerned citizens. Speakers included Assistant US Attorney & Reentry Coordinator Dena King, Rocky Mount Police Captain Michael Paul, US Magistrate Judge James E. Gates,  Supervising US Probation Officer Jeffrey Keller, Federal Bureau of Prisons Reentry Affairs Coordinator Marc Phillips, NCDPS Director of Rehabilitative Programs & Services Nicole Sullivan, NC Department of Commerce Regional Offender Specialist Alesha Jones-Garrett, and the Alliance’s own CSI Executive Director Dennis Gaddy and Jobs for Life Training & Reentry Specialist Miea Walker.

The North Carolina Department of Public Safety also recognized National Reentry Week by reaffirming its commitment to reentry.

“As we continue with improvements through a process of re-missioning our 56 state prisons, reentry is a significant and important part of the conversation,” said W. David Guice, Commissioner of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice.  “More than a dozen of our minimum and medium custody prison facilities will have reentry as their designated mission.” 

As described by the North Carolina News Network:

Those prions will be the places where inmates are prepared for release and then released back into society when their sentence is complete. At these reentry facilities, case managers will help inmates prepare for release in a variety of ways. They will help inmates develop a transition plan, and make sure each inmate has essential documents like photo ID, a social security card and educational certificates from their prison learning. Institutional probation/parole officers working from offices in the prison will connect releasing inmates to needed services and resources in the community where they will live, and to the probation/parole officer who will supervise them after release.

“About 95 percent of all inmates will one day be released from prison and return to our communities,” said Public Safety Secretary Frank L. Perry in a press release.  “We must do all we can to help ensure that they are successful and do not re-offend.”

Legislative Roundup

Earlier this week, legislators from across our state returned to the North Carolina Legislative Building in Raleigh to begin the 2015-2016 short session. Over the last few years, our Alliance has called on our state’s elected leaders to lower barriers to reentry and increase access to resources for individuals with criminal records. We have achieved significant progress through our advocacy. 

Essential to our recent successes and future ambitions is the willingness of each member of the NC Second Chance Alliance—especially those with criminal records directly impacted by these barriers— to voice his or her support and/or concerns to elected leaders. While the short session is a more difficult time to move legislation, we are optimistic significant progress is achievable during this short session if our members—you!—are frequently willing to call, email, or visit with legislators. We intend to focus our advocacy efforts during the short session on two elements of our advocacy agenda: expunctions and certificates of relief. Based on our work with the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys and communications with several key legislators, we believe there is an opportunity during the short session to:

  1. Reduce wait times for expunctions of first-time nonviolent convictions from 15 years to 10 years for felony offenses and 5 years for misdemeanor offenses; and
  2. Expand eligibility for certificates of relief from first-time convictions to multiple convictions.

Together, these crucial reforms would meaningfully restore pathways to prosperity for most community members striving to build productive lives beyond their past mistakes.

We will be issuing legislative action alerts and distributing detailed materials on these potential reforms in the coming days and weeks.

New Reentry Resources

White House Launches the Fair Chance Business Pledge

The White House (Press Release): Today at the White House, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Senior Advisor to the President Valerie Jarrett, and other White House officials hosted 19 companies from across the American economy who are standing with the Obama Administration as founding pledge takers to launch the Fair Chance Business Pledge. The pledge represents a call-to-action for all members of the private sector to improve their communities by eliminating barriers for those with a criminal record and creating a pathway for a second chance.

Companies signing the pledge today include: American Airlines, Busboys and Poets, The Coca-Cola Company, Facebook, Georgia Pacific, Google, Greyston Bakery, The Hershey Company, The Johns Hopkins Hospital and Health System, Koch Industries, Libra Group, PepsiCo, Prudential, Starbucks, Uber, Under Amour/Plank Industries, Unilever and Xerox.

By signing the Fair Chance Business Pledge, these companies are:

  • Voicing strong support for economic opportunity for all, including the approximately 70 million Americans who have some form of a criminal record.
  • Demonstrating an ongoing commitment to take action to reduce barriers to a fair shot at a second chance, including practices like “banning the box” by delaying criminal history questions until later in the hiring process; ensuring that information regarding an applicant’s criminal record is considered in proper context; and engaging in hiring practices that do not unnecessarily place jobs out of reach for those with criminal records.
  • Setting an example for their peers. Today’s announcement is only the beginning. Later this year, the Obama Administration will release a second round of pledges, with a goal of mobilizing more companies and organizations to join the Fair Chance Business Pledge.

Companies and organizations interested in joining the Fair Chance Business Pledge can do so by signing up HERE.

The White House’s Fair Chance Business Pledge should be a helpful tool for local Second Chance campaigns to improve the hiring practices of North Carolina’s private employers.

North Carolina Justice Center Releases 2016 Summary of North Carolina Expunctions

The 4th edition of the Summary of North Carolina Expunctions is now available here.

The summary is intended to be used by attorneys and individuals as an initial guide to understanding the criteria and filing requirements of the various expunctions in North Carolina. The summary also includes answers to question regarding terms, interpretations, and procedures that frequently arise in petitioning for relief.

The primary goal of this summary is to increase access to expunction relief for North Carolinians with criminal records. While the number of individuals eligible for expunction relief is limited by relatively rigid eligibility criteria, the vast majority of individuals actually eligible for expunction relief do not obtain it. The number of expunction orders in FY 2014/2015 is displayed below and startlingly small relative to the 1.5 million North Carolinians with criminal records.

NC ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICE OF THE COURTS, 2015 EXPUNCTIONS REPORT

New Annie E. Casey Foundation report recommends policies to help millions of children with incarcerated parents

Children of incarcerated parents face serious emotional and financial instability, according to a report released today by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. In North Carolina, more than 179,000 children have experienced the separation of a parent due to incarceration.

The KIDS COUNT® policy report, A Shared Sentence: The Devastating Toll of Parental Incarceration on Kids, Families and Communities, includes recommendations state and local policymakers should adopt to help these children overcome the challenges of having an incarcerated parent.

“North Carolina spends hundreds of millions of dollars on prisons every year, but allocates very few resources to support the children and families who are left behind,” says Michelle Hughes, executive director of NC Child, a statewide child advocacy group. “We need to make sure children don’t share their parent’s punishment.”

Research shows that children of incarcerated parents are more likely to suffer from poverty and emotional trauma, and in North Carolina, little infrastructure exists to support them.

Melissa Radcliff is the program director for Our Children’s Place of Coastal Horizons Center, Inc., which works with North Carolina communities and policymakers to improve outcomes for children of incarcerated parents.
 
“Many communities are just starting to have the conversation about what it means for children to have an incarcerated parent,” says Radcliff. “While there are some bright spots, North Carolina has a lot of catching up to do when it comes to addressing this problem.”
 
Non-profit organizations, such as Charlotte’s Center for Community Transitions, provide tremendous services to families of incarcerated parents, but they can only reach a limited number of children due to financial and geographical constraints.
 
In North Carolina, the problem of mass incarceration also begins earlier than in most states as a result of our outdated and ineffective policy of charging all 16- and 17-year-olds as adults regardless of the crime. These youth begin their adult lives, and potentially their lives as parents, facing many of the same financial and emotional challenges that incarcerated adults face.
 
Furthermore, numerous existing policies undermine family stability during a parent’s prison sentence. For example:

  • Telephone calls to family members are time-limited and costly, which can make staying in touch with family members challenging.
  • The amount inmates can be paid for work inside prison ranges from $0.40 to $1.00 per day depending on the work assignment, making it impossible for inmates to save a meaningful amount of money in advance of their release.
  • Most local housing authorities don’t allow people with a recent felony conviction to live in Section 8 housing. This means that a family living in public housing might have to give up a stable, low-cost home if they want to reunite with an incarcerated loved one.

Despite these challenges, there is some positive movement toward supporting former inmates and their families. For example, Orange County now allows some former inmates to live in public housing with their families, which is critical for a family’s emotional and financial stability.

Additionally, the state has established 10 local re-entry councils that serve as clearinghouses for former inmates looking rejoin the workforce and society. So far, these councils have been very successful, but need to be scaled up to provide all returning prisoners with the same benefits.
 
These policy and programmatic developments are consistent with the Casey Foundation’s three broad recommendations to address the increased poverty and stress that children of incarcerated parents experience:

  1. Ensure children are supported while parents are incarcerated and after they return.
  2. Connect parents who have returned to the community with pathways to employment.
  3. Strengthen communities, particularly those disproportionately affected by incarceration and reentry, to promote family stability and opportunity

Additionally, the Casey Foundation issued specific directives for judges, non-profits, local governments, and state lawmakers:
 
Judges:

  • Consider the impact on kids and families when making sentencing and decisions about where parents will be confined.
  • Require courts to inform local social service agencies and community-based organizations when a parent is incarcerated so he or she can connect with families.

Community organizations:

  • Build family connections and offer programs and resources tailored to children with incarcerated parents.
  • Provide family counseling and parenting courses through prisons and in neighborhoods.

Local governments:

  • Create additional pathways with anchor institutions, such as hospitals and universities, to ensure economic inclusion.

States:

  • Direct more funds toward prison education and training for in-demand jobs.
  • Minimize the negative effects of a criminal record once a parent has successfully reentered society through “ban the box” policies.
  • Facilitate access for affected families to financial, legal, childcare and housing assistance.
  • Enable families impacted by incarceration to access Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families programs to cover basic needs and become self-sufficient.
  • Provide incentives to housing authorities and private landlords to allow people with records to access safe, affordable housing.

Detailed recommendations can be found in A Shared Sentence at www.aecf.org. Additional information is available at www.aecf.org/sharedsentence.

NC Child advances public policies that improve the lives of North Carolina’s children. We work statewide to ensure that all children are healthy, safe, well-educated, and economically secure by engaging communities, and informing and influencing decision-makers. For more information, visit www.ncchild.org.

Alliance in the News

“Public Face of US Re-entry Effort Speaks from Own Experience,” Associated Press—A great profile of NC Second Chance Alliance co-founder and new DOJ Reentry Fellow Daryl Atkinson.

“Ban the Box- Right or Risky,” UNC-TV Black Issues Forum—Alliance members Umar Muhammad and Daniel Bowes join Rep. Garland Pierce to discuss efforts to Ban the Box for state employment.

“Meet Melissa Radcliff: Supporting Children of Incarcerated Parents,” WUNC—Alliance members and Our Children’s Place Program Director Melissa Radcliff discuss her path to working on behalf of children of incarcerated parents.

 

 

Authors: 
Research & Publications: