Collateral Consequences of Incarceration
Today, between 70 and 100 million, or nearly one in three people in America have some sort of criminal record. Some are minor offenses or arrests without convictions. Nonetheless, the presence of a criminal record automatically triggers widespread barriers to successful reentry after an individual has served his or her time.
The American Bar Association has cataloged approximately 44,500 collateral consequences of a criminal record, including obstacles to gainful employment, affordable housing and family supports. These collateral consequences undermine successful reentry, which negatively impacts public safety and wastes state resources.
Evidence based reforms that ease restrictions for these individuals after they have served their time can reduce future crime by breaking down cycles of incarceration. When faced with no opportunities for success, an individual is far more likely to recidivate. On the other hand, by incorporating a multi-faceted approach including policy changes and community support, we can reduce the cost of future incarceration, increase public safety and restore families.
Over the past few years, significant efforts have been made in this arena, including the expansion of access to expunctions of criminal records. Advocates across the political spectrum continue to contemplate additional steps that would ease restrictions faced by a significant percentage of our state’s population, allowing these individuals the ability to be productive citizens, supporting themselves and their families.
Certificates of Relief
Certificates of relief help restore opportunities for individuals with criminal records by transforming certain automatic civil disqualifications into discretionary civil disqualifications (ex. Occupational licensing), shielding employers and landlords from negligence liability, and contextualizing an individual by providing additional information about an applicant.
Obtaining a certificate of relief does not erase an individual’s record, but rather, provides context to employers and landlord.
Efforts to expand eligibility for Certificates of Relief enjoy broad, bipartisan support. Nationally, conservative organizations have offered model legislation for this type of effort ALEC models of “certificate of rehabilitation.”
North Carolina’s Certificate of Relief Act (S.L 211) currently allows individuals convicted of two misdemeanors or a low-level felony offense (Classes G-I) the ability to petition the court for a Certificate of Relief.
Efforts to expand eligibility for Certificates of Relief are support by Chief Justice Mark Martin, the Equal Access to Justice Commission and the Department of Public Safety.
Facilitating Individualized Assessments of Individuals with Criminal Records in Occupational Licensing Decisions
Approximately 30% of occupations in NC require some form of licensure; many in some of the state and nation’s growing sectors, such as health care. Restricting the licensure of individuals with criminal records bars a substantial percentage of North Carolina’s otherwise qualified pool of applicants from filling these gaps in the state’s workforce.
Common sense efforts can be made to reform North Carolina’s licensing policy will help ensure that qualified individuals are not excluded from consideration based on overly broad disqualifications such as “good moral conduct” or records that are entirely irrelevant to the applicant’s intended occupation.