Legislation Would Allow Access to Employment, Professional Licenses & Housing
Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Charles Mainor, Raj Mukherji and Thomas Giblin to help make it easier for certain individuals with criminal backgrounds to reintegrate into society was advanced recently by an Assembly panel.
The bill (A-3602) would establish a certificate of rehabilitation to remove barriers that prevent people with conviction records who have a history of substance abuse from securing employment, professional licenses and housing.
Such certificates provide individuals with criminal histories with a pathway to restoring their lives, supporting their families and giving back to their communities, said Mainor.
“More than half a million individuals in America leave prison each year with the desire to become productive members of society, but due to laws that indefinitely discriminate against those with criminal backgrounds, they are unfairly left without the means to rebuild their lives,” said Mainor (D-Hudson). “Once someone has served his or her sentence, we should consider the debt to society paid in full. By facilitating successful reintegration, this bill will help provide second chances and prevent recidivism.”
Under the bill, individuals who have a substance abuse disorder and have been convicted of certain crimes would be eligible for a certificate of rehabilitation from the court or parole board provided they: have refrained from drug and alcohol use for at least five years; have not been convicted of a crime within the past three years; affirmatively demonstrate rehabilitation; and have been found by a certified addiction professional to be stable in recovery.
A job applicant who holds a certificate of rehabilitation could not have his or her application for employment denied because of a criminal conviction or due to a finding of lack of “good moral character” unless there is a direct relationship between the offense and the nature of the employment sought or the applicant committed the most recent crime less than a decade before applying.
Limits on certain rights and privileges, such as voting rights, the right to travel and the ability to qualify for professional licenses, may be relieved by the certificate.
Several skilled and unskilled workers – including barbers, health care professionals, security guards, waste management workers and accountants, for example – must prove competency and character in order to secure the licenses required for such occupations. Although many of those formerly incarcerated can demonstrate the skill to do a certain job, a criminal conviction and evidence of previous drug abuse are often considered a reflection of poor character and thus yield an automatic disqualification, said Mukherji.
“For many who have been incarcerated, the lifelong stigma of having a criminal record is compounded by the resulting consequence of not being able to find a job and take care of one’s family or living on the street after being denied housing,” said Mukherji (D-Hudson). “While everyone makes mistakes – which may rightfully require punishment – people deserve the opportunity to recover from those mistakes. This economically sound legislation is about providing an avenue for qualified individuals to prove themselves, but more importantly, it’s about restoring lives and families in New Jersey.”
“Certificates of rehabilitation support reentry, promote public safety and are good for the overall economy,” said Giblin (D-Essex). “By allowing employers to retain their discretion instead of focusing only on a single element of an applicant’s history, this bill will create an avenue to gainful employment that provides a means of supporting a family and fosters a sense of dignity – a combination that can deter a return to criminal activity.”
Under the bill, persons convicted of certain crimes, such as murder, manslaughter, aggravated assault, kidnapping, sexual assault, arson and gang criminality, would not be eligible for a certificate of rehabilitation.
The measure was released on Thursday by the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee, of which Mainor is chair.