Coalition of Reentry Advocates
CoRA’s members first began meeting informally in 2005 to discuss ideas for state legislation and administrative reform that would remove barriers to employment for individuals who had interacted with the criminal punishment system. Members of the group met with individual legislators to promote reentry-related legislation, with the Office of Court Administration to suggest reforms to the courts’ record-keeping and data entry to better ensure accuracy, and with the Division of Parole to seek changes in the process for issuing Certificates of Relief from Disabilities and Certificates of Good Conduct. In 2012, coalition members created a more formal structure and adopted the name “Coalition of Reentry Advocates,” or CoRA. Later, the group adopted a committee structure and elected individuals to serve as CoRA’s leaders. The first CoRA chair was Sebastian Solomon, Policy Associate at the Legal Action Center. In 2015, he was joined by Patricia Warth, Director of Justice Strategies at the Center for Community Alternatives. In late 2015, Judy Whiting, General Counsel at the Community Service Society, replaced Patricia Warth as co-chair.
In 2010, eight bills drafted and/or supported by CoRA members were passed by the New York State legislature and signed into law by Governor Paterson. The legislation covered a number of important issues ranging from access to criminal record information and barriers to employment to voting and child support. One of the bills surveyed New York State legislation for laws that stated that certain rights, such as the ability to work as a real estate broker or work as a bus driver, could be restored by either a Certificate of Relief from Disabilities or a Certificate of Good Conduct, but not both. Each of these laws was amended to ensure that both certificates were able to restore the referenced right. Another of the bills required the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision to remove certain criminal record information from its website after five-year have elapsed from the end of the individual’s most recent sentence. When signing these bills into law, Governor Paterson did, however, veto one piece of legislation that would have expanded the remedies available to individuals with criminal conviction histories who faced discrimination by a public employer. In his veto message, Governor Paterson indicated that he supported the goals of the legislation but was concerned about the cost in light of the State’s challenging fiscal realities. However, he indicated he would work toward issuing an Executive Order that would provide alternative ways of assisting individuals with conviction histories. In response, CoRA members created a list of recommendations for such an Executive Order though, unfortunately he failed to issue the proposed Order before leaving office.
CoRA has also sought to effect positive change through administrative advocacy, but at the New York State level and the New York City level. Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration has been particularly receptive to meeting with CoRA to elicit ideas for administrative changes that could promote the success of people with past convictions. As a result, CoRA has been engaged in ongoing discussions with the Governor’s Deputy Secretary for Civil Rights and the Deputy Commissioner of the newly created Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) and staff of the DOCCS Certificate Review Unit.
In 2013, Governor Cuomo created the Justice Center, an agency tasked with supporting and protecting people with special needs and disabilities statewide. Among the Center’s new duties was to perform criminal background checks on those applicants for positions with State-licensed or regulated agencies serving individuals with mental health problems and those with developmental disabilities that would require substantial unsupervised contact with vulnerable individuals. The legislation also allowed the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) to begin fingerprinting individuals wishing to work in OASAS licensed facilities and those seeking OASAS credentialing. CoRA members met with both Justice Center and OASAS staff to discuss their plans for carrying out these new mandates, and to suggest potential improvements.
CoRA has also worked on a number of other issues around barriers affecting individuals with criminal records. We have a number of legislative ideas for the State and the City that we continue to promote, both on our own and in coalition with partners.