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The Committee Releases Report on Collateral Consequences of Arrests and Convictions in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia

The Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs released at a press conference today a groundbreaking report, The Collateral Consequences of Arrests and Convictions under DC, Maryland, and Virginia Law. The report, the first to focus on the problem of collateral consequences in the DC tri-jurisdiction region, documents the significant extent of the problem and its disproportionate impact on African-Americans, as explained in the enclosed executive summary. It includes case studies of five area residents victimized by collateral consequences in employment and housing, two of whom were at the press conference. The report also contains recommendations for action, including changes to the “ban-the-box” law that took effect in DC yesterday.

The Committee’s work on the report was greatly assisted by a blue-ribbon advisory panel of distinguished senior and retired judges, along with a team of lawyers from Covington & Burling LLP, who were the principal authors of the report. The members of the Judicial Advisory Panel were: John M. Ferren, Senior Judge, DC Court of Appeals; Rufus G. King III, Senior Judge, DC Superior Court; James Robertson, Retired Judge, US District Court for the District of Columbia; Ricardo M. Urbina, Retired Judge, US District Court for the District of Columbia; Patricia M. Wald, Retired Chief Judge, US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. 

“The collateral consequences problem and its disproportionate racial impact make this a key civil rights issue requiring a sustained response,” said WLC Director Rod Boggs.

This report is the second in a series by the Washington Lawyers Committee on criminal justice reform and civil rights. The first, Racial Disparities in Arrests in the District of Columbia, 2009-2011, was issued last year.

Executive Summary

Findings

  • The problem of collateral consequences of arrests and convictions – penalties that are imposed not by penal laws or sentences but by ancillary rules, statutes, or practices that make it harder to get a job, housing, and other necessities – is significant and growing in DC, Maryland and Virginia.

  • In DC alone, some 60,000 residents have past conviction records.  About 8,000 more people are released each year, and each year police make about 35,000 arrests.

  • The disproportionate impact on minorities makes this very clearly a civil rights problem. For example, although African-Americans make up less than 48% of the city’s population, over 92% of those sentenced by the DC Superior Court in 2012 were African-Americans, whose overall rate of incarceration in DC is some 19 times the rate of whites.

  • As to employment, the Council on Court Excellence estimated that nearly half of those in DC who have been incarcerated “may be jobless with little prospect of finding consistent work.” Strong evidence suggests that this inability to find work is directly related to past arrest or conviction history, and that it is a major contributing cause of recidivism.

  • Although there have clearly been improvements in licensing and employment law, DC, Maryland and Virginia law still leave licensing boards and employers significant discretion to deny employment because of past criminal history.  A license, which is needed for many occupations, can be denied by a licensing authority in DC, for example, when it determines, in its discretion, that there is “a potential direct relationship” between the offense and the license. Limits on use of criminal history to deny a license or job in the area are not subject to effective judicial enforcement.

  • Arrest and conviction history have serious effects on the ability to find public or private housing. None of the three jurisdictions restricts private landlords from denying housing based on criminal history, and Maryland and Virginia specifically authorize it.

  • Although federal law requires public housing authorities and subsidized housing owners to have discretion to exclude applicants because of specified types of activity (primarily convictions for drug-related or violent crime), only DC has sought to limit that discretion.  Even in DC, private owners of subsidized units have gone beyond their federally authorized discretion in denying housing.

  • DC has made need-based welfare and food stamp benefits fully available to otherwise qualified citizens with drug convictions, while Virginia and Maryland have not. The two states also restrict jury service by individuals with certain convictions, and Virginia still provides in its constitution for the permanent disenfranchisement of anyone convicted of a felony unless the Governor exercises discretion to restore an individual’s voting rights.    

  • The report includes case studies of people in the DC area who have been denied jobs and housing based on past records. Interviews of dozens more confirm the problem.

Recommendations

  • Any rules or practices authorizing any collateral consequences should always reflect the principles of necessity, due process, flexibility, and rehabilitation.  This means that all such consequences must be justified by a specific need, that they should rarely if ever be triggered by arrests or charges alone, that they generally should not be mandatory, and that a priority should be not to impede an individual’s rehabilitation.

  • All three area jurisdictions should review and improve their existing mechanisms for seeking individualized relief from collateral consequences, through methods like expungement or sealing of records and restoration of rights. The Washington Lawyers’ Committee hopes to discuss this subject in a subsequent report.

  • All three jurisdictions should further limit the discretion of licensing boards to deny licenses based on criminal records, enact or strengthen ban-the-box laws limiting employers’ use of criminal records in hiring decisions, and further limit access by most employers to official arrest and conviction records. Such limits should include adequate provisions for judicial enforcement.

  • Ban-the-box type laws should be enacted in all three jurisdictions, with adequate enforcement to limit the ability to deny housing based on past records. Public housing authorities should limit their use of criminal records to deny housing and should publish clear guidance on how they evaluate such information.

  • Maryland and Virginia should follow DC’s lead in making need-based welfare and food stamps fully available to otherwise qualified persons regardless of prior convictions.

  • Virginia should repeal its constitutional disenfranchisement of persons convicted of felonies. Virginia and Maryland should no longer categorically exclude individuals from jury service based on prior convictions after those individuals have successfully completed their sentences.

  • A series of community forums should be convened to help educate the public, solicit community testimony, and develop further recommendations to address collateral consequences.

  • Organizations that work with people with prior convictions should be involved with these forums and should receive additional support so they can expand the services that they provide.

  • An area-wide program of testing should be developed and implemented to further document the extent of the collateral consequences problem, and to serve as the basis for additional legislation or litigation as necessary, especially as to employment and housing. Legal representation should be provided to people seeking to challenge unjust collateral consequences. The Washington Lawyers’ Committee is committed to continuing monitoring and action on the collateral consequences issue.

 

About the Washington Lawyers’ Committee:  www.washlaw.org         

Established in 1968 to provide pro bono legal services to address discrimination and entrenched poverty in the Washington, DC community, the Washington Lawyers’ Committee has since successfully handled thousands of civil rights cases on behalf of individuals and groups. 

 

The Committee Releases Report on Collateral Consequences of Arrests and Convictions in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia

The Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs released at a press conference today a groundbreaking report, The Collateral Consequences of Arrests and Convictions under DC, Maryland, and Virginia Law. The report, the first to focus on the problem of collateral consequences in the DC tri-jurisdiction region, documents the significant extent of the problem and its disproportionate impact on African-Americans, as explained in the enclosed executive summary. It includes case studies of five area residents victimized by collateral consequences in employment and housing, two of whom were at the press conference. The report also contains recommendations for action, including changes to the “ban-the-box” law that took effect in DC yesterday.

The Committee’s work on the report was greatly assisted by a blue-ribbon advisory panel of distinguished senior and retired judges, along with a team of lawyers from Covington & Burling LLP, who were the principal authors of the report. The members of the Judicial Advisory Panel were: John M. Ferren, Senior Judge, DC Court of Appeals; Rufus G. King III, Senior Judge, DC Superior Court; James Robertson, Retired Judge, US District Court for the District of Columbia; Ricardo M. Urbina, Retired Judge, US District Court for the District of Columbia; Patricia M. Wald, Retired Chief Judge, US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. 

“The collateral consequences problem and its disproportionate racial impact make this a key civil rights issue requiring a sustained response,” said WLC Director Rod Boggs.

This report is the second in a series by the Washington Lawyers Committee on criminal justice reform and civil rights. The first, Racial Disparities in Arrests in the District of Columbia, 2009-2011, was issued last year.

 

Executive Summary

Findings

  • The problem of collateral consequences of arrests and convictions – penalties that are imposed not by penal laws or sentences but by ancillary rules, statutes, or practices that make it harder to get a job, housing, and other necessities – is significant and growing in DC, Maryland and Virginia.
  • In DC alone, some 60,000 residents have past conviction records.  About 8,000 more people are released each year, and each year police make about 35,000 arrests.
  • The disproportionate impact on minorities makes this very clearly a civil rights problem. For example, although African-Americans make up less than 48% of the city’s population, over 92% of those sentenced by the DC Superior Court in 2012 were African-Americans, whose overall rate of incarceration in DC is some 19 times the rate of whites.
  • As to employment, the Council on Court Excellence estimated that nearly half of those in DC who have been incarcerated “may be jobless with little prospect of finding consistent work.” Strong evidence suggests that this inability to find work is directly related to past arrest or conviction history, and that it is a major contributing cause of recidivism.
  • Although there have clearly been improvements in licensing and employment law, DC, Maryland and Virginia law still leave licensing boards and employers significant discretion to deny employment because of past criminal history.  A license, which is needed for many occupations, can be denied by a licensing authority in DC, for example, when it determines, in its discretion, that there is “a potential direct relationship” between the offense and the license. Limits on use of criminal history to deny a license or job in the area are not subject to effective judicial enforcement.
  • Arrest and conviction history have serious effects on the ability to find public or private housing. None of the three jurisdictions restricts private landlords from denying housing based on criminal history, and Maryland and Virginia specifically authorize it.
  • Although federal law requires public housing authorities and subsidized housing owners to have discretion to exclude applicants because of specified types of activity (primarily convictions for drug-related or violent crime), only DC has sought to limit that discretion.  Even in DC, private owners of subsidized units have gone beyond their federally authorized discretion in denying housing.
  • DC has made need-based welfare and food stamp benefits fully available to otherwise qualified citizens with drug convictions, while Virginia and Maryland have not. The two states also restrict jury service by individuals with certain convictions, and Virginia still provides in its constitution for the permanent disenfranchisement of anyone convicted of a felony unless the Governor exercises discretion to restore an individual’s voting rights.    
  • The report includes case studies of people in the DC area who have been denied jobs and housing based on past records. Interviews of dozens more confirm the problem.

 

Recommendations

  • Any rules or practices authorizing any collateral consequences should always reflect the principles of necessity, due process, flexibility, and rehabilitation.  This means that all such consequences must be justified by a specific need, that they should rarely if ever be triggered by arrests or charges alone, that they generally should not be mandatory, and that a priority should be not to impede an individual’s rehabilitation.
  • All three area jurisdictions should review and improve their existing mechanisms for seeking individualized relief from collateral consequences, through methods like expungement or sealing of records and restoration of rights. The Washington Lawyers’ Committee hopes to discuss this subject in a subsequent report.
  • All three jurisdictions should further limit the discretion of licensing boards to deny licenses based on criminal records, enact or strengthen ban-the-box laws limiting employers’ use of criminal records in hiring decisions, and further limit access by most employers to official arrest and conviction records. Such limits should include adequate provisions for judicial enforcement.
  • Ban-the-box type laws should be enacted in all three jurisdictions, with adequate enforcement to limit the ability to deny housing based on past records. Public housing authorities should limit their use of criminal records to deny housing and should publish clear guidance on how they evaluate such information.
  • Maryland and Virginia should follow DC’s lead in making need-based welfare and food stamps fully available to otherwise qualified persons regardless of prior convictions.
  • Virginia should repeal its constitutional disenfranchisement of persons convicted of felonies. Virginia and Maryland should no longer categorically exclude individuals from jury service based on prior convictions after those individuals have successfully completed their sentences.
  • A series of community forums should be convened to help educate the public, solicit community testimony, and develop further recommendations to address collateral consequences.
  • Organizations that work with people with prior convictions should be involved with these forums and should receive additional support so they can expand the services that they provide.
  • An area-wide program of testing should be developed and implemented to further document the extent of the collateral consequences problem, and to serve as the basis for additional legislation or litigation as necessary, especially as to employment and housing. Legal representation should be provided to people seeking to challenge unjust collateral consequences. The Washington Lawyers’ Committee is committed to continuing monitoring and action on the collateral consequences issue.

 

About the Washington Lawyers’ Committee:  www.washlaw.org         

Established in 1968 to provide pro bono legal services to address discrimination and entrenched poverty in the Washington, DC community, the Washington Lawyers’ Committee has since successfully handled thousands of civil rights cases on behalf of individuals and groups. 

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