(TRENTON) - An Assembly panel on Thursday released legislation sponsored by Assemblyman Troy Singleton (D-Burlington) to help remove barriers to employment for convicted offenders so they can rebuild and avoid the pitfalls that land many ex-offenders back behind bars.
A recent recidivism study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that 77 percent of the nearly 70,000 released prisoners from 30 states had been rearrested within five years.
"If we are serious about wanting people who have paid their debts to society to become productive members of society, we have to remove the impediments to that goal," said Singleton. "People make mistakes. If they have shown a commitment and willingness to do better, we should at least meet them halfway."
The bill (A-4780) would assist convicted offenders obtain employment by allowing them to petition the court for relief from collateral sanctions, establishing a certificate of suitability for employment (which provides civil immunity for employers under certain circumstances), and requiring public employers to justify adverse hiring decisions.
Under the bill, certain convicted offenders would be authorized to petition the court for an order of limited relief from collateral sanctions. A qualified applicant would be able to do so at sentencing or when they have completed a sentence. The bill defines a collateral sanction as a penalty, restriction, disability, forfeiture, bar, or disadvantage, however denominated, related to employment or occupational licensing imposed on a person pursuant to state law that applies by operation of law as a consequence of the person's conviction for a crime or offense. An example of a collateral sanction is denial of a government issued license or permit, such as a driver's license.
"Collateral sanctions often make it more difficult for convicted offenders to successfully reintegrate into society upon release. Creating opportunities for these individuals to get on the right track no only benefits them, but the families and communities they return to," said Singleton. Even if an offender has been granted relief from a collateral sanction, the bill would authorize employers to deny the employment, benefit or opportunity, if the employer determines after an individualized assessment of the offender and the circumstances of the crime that the elements and conduct of the crime are substantially related to the employment, benefit or opportunity and employing the offender may present a risk to the safety of a person or the public.
The bill would also establish a certificate of suitability for employment. P.L.2007, c.327 established a certificate that would relieve disabilities, forfeitures, and bars related to obtaining public employment, professional licenses, and admission to examinations for licensure or certification. The bill would broaden the scope of this newly entitled "certificate of suitability for employment" to also provide public and private employers with civil immunity when hiring a convicted offender. The bill would also amend and clarify current law prohibiting a licensing authority from discriminating against a convicted offender in granting a license or certification, or entry to an exam for a license or certification, on the grounds that the applicant was convicted of a crime or disorderly persons offense.
The bill specifies that, upon request, an application for a certificate of suitability for employment also serves as an application for restoring the applicant's driver's license when the license suspension was a collateral sanction. The applicant would have to provide proof of a bona fide employment opportunity and the necessity of a license to perform or commute to the job.
Additionally, the bill would expand the law prohibiting discrimination not only to occupational licensing and certification, but also to public employment. Under the bill, when a public entity makes an adverse decision against an applicant for a license, certification, or public employment the entity must notify the applicant of the adverse decision and that the applicant is entitled to request a written explanation from the public entity of how certain factors enumerated in the bill relate to the applicant's lack of fitness or ability to perform the duties and responsibilities of the occupation, trade, vocation, profession, or business, or would create a risk to public safety. Law enforcement, homeland security, and correctional agencies, as well as the courts, are exempt, but not prohibited, from adopting these policies.
The bill was released by the Assembly Law & Public Safety Committee.