During the past three decades, New York has enacted a series of statutes to implement the state’s strong public policy of encouraging the employment of qualified individuals with histories of criminal justice system involvement, so that those who pay their debt to society can earn a living and become productive, tax-paying, and law-abiding citizens.
But a number of barriers still exist. The Coalition of Reentry Advocates (CoRA) supports the following package of proposals that will further improve the ability of people leaving the criminal justice system to reenter society successfully and thereby also save New York money.
Our Legislative Priorities:
Enacting legislation to allow the sealing of a record of conviction in certain circumstances — This bill (S4027) adds a new section 160.65 to the Criminal Procedure Law to provide for the sealing of certain convictions upon the passage of time and a person remaining crime free. This bill will mitigate the stigma that can result from a conviction record and lower the barriers to successful rehabilitation and reintegration into society, while protecting public safety and maintaining community trust.
Passing a law to assure that people whose cases have been adjourned in contemplation of dismissal will not lose their jobs during the adjournment period — This bill (A4038/S3205) would prohibit employers and licensing agencies from treating ACDs as pending cases, thereby preventing employment discrimination and saving jobs. This bill would also reduce administrative costs that result when state employees are suspended as a result of an ACD.
Enacting Fair Chance legislation to prevent New York State employers from asking about a job applicant's criminal record until a conditional offer of employment has been made — Even though New York currently has a law prohibiting employers from discrimination based on criminal convictions (Article 23-A of the Correction Law), many employers continue to do so. These bills (A3050) would help ensure that employers abide by Article 23-A by preventing them from considering criminal record information until later in the hiring process.
- Preventing DCJS and OCA from including information about arrest and arraignment charges for which the applicant was not convicted in criminal history reports created for civil purposes — Bill to amend the Executive Law and the Judiciary Law to prevent the inclusion of arrest and arraignment charges for which the applicant was not convicted in DCJS and OCA criminal history reports. Individuals are routinely charged with much more serious charges than they are convicted of. When employers and others see these more serious charges, especially, as is often the case, when employers do not know how to read the reports or the information is presented in confusing ways, they are likely to use these non-conviction charges in making employment and other decisions.
Ensuring that persons illegally discriminated against by a public employer due to a prior criminal conviction unrelated to the employment sought is able to seek redress with the Division of Human Rights — This bill (A1729/S3352) establishes meaningful enforcement of the Human Rights Law’s anti-discrimination provisions. Only one class of individuals claiming illegal discrimination, those discriminated against by public agencies on the basis of their criminal record, have their legal remedies limited. This bill gives victims of criminal-records based discrimination the same access to enforcement mechanisms available to other victims of discrimination.
Extending certain protections to current employees with criminal records — This bill would amend Correction Law § 754 to extend its protections to current employees and license holders. Extending § 754 of the Correction Law to current employees makes the law consistent with changes made to the Correction Law in 2007, which made it illegal to discriminate against current employees as well as applicants.
Additional Proposals We Support to Improve the Successful Reentry into Society Of Qualified Individuals with Criminal Records:
Correcting and Improving Rap Sheet Accuracy Legislation
Redacting information on RAP sheets produced for civil purposes to exclude arrests where the case is more than five years old, no disposition is recorded, and there has been no activity on the case for at least five years — Many criminal history record reports lack disposition information because it is never reported to DCJS by the police, prosecutors, or courts. Employers and others who see these entries usually assume they are convictions, which they often are not. This bill (A3256/S4485) prohibits DCJS and OCA from disclosing such undisposed case information.
Correcting misinformation regarding arrest warrant information on rap sheets — Many rap sheets mistakenly list arrest warrants as active when they have actually been recalled. This bill (A3455/S2872) creates a process to verify criminal record information when rap sheets contain contradictory information regarding arrest warrants.
- Allowing sealing of dismissals, marijuana violations, and other petty offenses that are more than 20 years old — This bill allows cases terminated before 1991 to be treated like post-1991 dismissals, acquittals, declines to prosecute, voided arrests, and convictions for unlawful possession of marijuana and other petty offenses that are automatically sealed by the court and DCJS. It would ensure fair treatment for older cases and relieve courts from dealing with complex, time-consuming sealing motions.
Making it illegal for individuals, employers and others to request or require that an individual acquire a copy of his or her own fingerprint-based criminal record report from DCJS, unless they are statutorily permitted to do so — A number of employers and government agencies who do not have statutory authority to obtain rap sheets regularly condition job offers, government licensing, access to education and other benefits on the applicant providing a copy of his or her own rap sheet. This enables these employers and licensing agencies to see sealed and confidential information which the State Human Right Law bars them from using when making employment and licensing decisions. It also requires many of the individuals to spend over $60, an amount which many will have difficulty affording.
- Creating a presumption in favor of issuance of a Certificate of Relief from Disabilities or a Certificate of Good Conduct — This bill (A4040) would facilitate the issuance of Certificates of Relief from Disabilities and Certificates of Good Conduct. Amending the Correction Law shifting the emphasis of the law toward the issuance of the Certificate will encourage judges and the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision to issue more Certificates while retaining their discretion.
Clarifying "direct relationship" standard in Article 23-A — This bill (A2144/S3351) amends Correction and Executive Laws to clarify “direct relationship” standard in Article 23-A. Even though New York currently has a law prohibiting employers from discrimination based on criminal convictions (Article 23-A of the Correction Law), many employers continue to do so. The bill ensures that employers abide by Article 23-A and more clearly defines the term “direct relationship.”
- Allowing courts to modify the length of an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal — Bill to amend Criminal Procedure Law § 170.55 to conform to CPL §§ 170.56 and 410.90 so that courts may modify the conditions or extend or reduce the terms of an Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal and authorize the case to be automatically dismissed if not restored during the period fixed by the court. Such a bill would ensure consistency of CPL provisions dealing with the terms and conditions of ACDs and reduce sealing errors.
Legislation that Lowers Barriers in Areas Other than Employment
- Extending the protections in the Human Rights Law to volunteer positions, housing applications, and institutions of higher education — Amend §296(16) of the Executive Law so that it includes volunteers; extend the protections of §296(16) so that it applies to housing and educational institutions. Currently, Executive Law §296 protects those who apply for employment or credit from having sealed arrests, conditionally sealed convictions or arrests that resulted in Youthful Offender adjudications from being considered or from having to disclose such arrests, convictions, or adjudications. This bill would extend this protection to those who apply for volunteer positions, housing, and/or higher education.
- Clarify that after sealing under §§ 160.50, 160.55, 160.58, or 720.35 of the Criminal Procedure Law, no record may be used for any purpose unless authorized by law — The widespread dissemination of arrest and court records (often by computer) to private agencies before sealing threatens to undermine the purpose of the sealing laws. This technical amendment (A4925) would clarify that after sealing, no record may be used for any purpose unless otherwise authorized by law.
- Restoring the right to vote to individuals who are not currently incarcerated — This bill (A5367/S960) restores the right to vote to individuals on parole. New York’s felony disenfranchisement law is a relic from a shameful past and long over-due for reform. Its disproportionate impact on communities of color continues to this day.
- Restoration of Temporary Release eligibility — This bill (A4042) would facilitate a structured transition from incarceration to parole or post release supervision and save New Yorkers millions of dollars each year.
- Sealing of accusatory instruments in cases that may result in a Youthful Offender adjudication — This bill (A5066) would amend section 720.15 of the Criminal Procedure Law to seal the accusatory instrument at the time of filing in all cases where a youth is apparently eligible for a YO and allow the court discretion to conduct the court proceedings in private. The law currently only provides for sealing and private proceedings where the accusatory instrument charges a misdemeanor or violation.
- "The Safe And Fair Evaluation (S.A.F.E.) Parole Act" — Amends Executive Law § 259-I to require that parole applicants who have served their minimum sentences be evaluated on their readiness for reentry. This amendment (A4353/S3095) will bring the parole statute into alignment with Penal Law §1.05, which was amended in 2006 to add a fifth sentencing goal -- the promotion of successful and productive reentry and reintegration into society.
- Enacting Fair Chance legislation to remove questions about a criminal record in higher education applications — This bill (A1792/S3740) explicitly prohibits colleges from asking about or considering applicants' past arrest or conviction during the application and admission decision-making process. To learn more, read the following memo in support from the Education from the Inside Out (EIO) Coalition.
- Creating guidance for higher education institutions regarding admissions decisions for individuals with criminal records — Bill to amend Education Law to provide guidance to higher education institutions about the use of criminal records in the admissions process. This bill would amend the Education Law to provide guidance to higher education institutions about the use of criminal records in the admissions process by delineating what criminal record information can be used and by creating a multi-factor analysis for institutions to follow. The bill would also create a safe harbor by creating a presumption that higher education institutions have not acted negligently by admitting a person with previous convictions in any civil action.
- Restoring higher education in New York State prison facilities — This bill (A3995/S3735) repeals ban on those who are incarcerated receiving New York State student financial aid awards from the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP). To learn more, read the following memo in support from the Education on the Inside Out (EIO) Coalition.
Other - Resolution
- Ending the automatic suspension/revocation of driver's licenses for all individuals convicted of drug crimes — Resolution and certification allowing the state to opt out of federal requirement to suspend or revoke the driver’s licenses of all individuals convicted of drug crimes. Automatically suspending all individuals who have been convicted of any drug crime, even when the crime has no connection to driving, results in individuals losing jobs that they can no longer reach and being unable to access key support services they may need.
- "One Day to Protect New Yorkers" proposal — This bill (S4294/A4881) amends the New York State Penal Law to reduce the maximum sentence for misdemeanor offenses by one day (from 365 to 364 days). Although federal immigration laws and New York criminal law are distinct bodies, they can combine to create harsh and counter-intuitive consequences for many immigrants. A conviction in New York for an A misdemeanor can result in deportation, regardless of whether the individual spends anytime in jail. Amending the law to reduce the maximum sentence by one day would remove this possibility. To learn more, read the following memo in support of the legislation from the Immigrant Defense Project (IDP). Additionally, IDP has created a model letter of support to help other organizations express their support.