Judiciary Committee

JOINT FAVORABLE REPORT

Bill No.:

SB-453

Title:

AN ACT CONCERNING CERTIFICATES OF RELIEF FROM BARRIERS RESULTING FROM CONVICTION OF A CRIME.

Vote Date:

4/2/2012

Vote Action:

Joint Favorable Substitute

PH Date:

3/23/2012

File No.:

SPONSORS OF BILL:

Judiciary Committee

REASONS FOR BILL:

In 2006, the state adopted a “provisional pardon” to be issued by the State Board of Parole and Pardons. The purpose was to better facilitate transition back to civilian life after an individual was convicted and/or was incarcerated. In theory, holders of a “provisional pardon” would face less difficulty securing employment than somebody who does not have one. Since enactment, the program has seen its share of problems and has been criticized for the rather slow pace which the Board processes applications. The similar terminology of a full pardon has also created confusion. Moreover, concerns have been raised that the prior bill did not include application to housing in addition to employment.

Substitute Language: In the proposed substitute the definition of public agency was omitted. A mechanism was added in Section 2 of the bill intended for Conn. Gen. Stat. S 54-130e that would allow the Superior Court to issue a Certificate of Relief from Barriers. Proposed subsections (b), (g), and (j) reflect this inclusion of the Superior Court in the process. In subsection (p) the Sentencing Commission is given an added command in the substitute language to update data on its website relating to this bill every six months. In Section 5 of the bill amending Conn. Gen. Stat. S 8-45a, the substitute language removes a command to a housing authority to deem a Certificate of Relief from Barriers as presumed eligibility and merely requires housing authorities to consider the certificate. This change appears to be made in response to concerns from housing authority officials.

RESPONSE FROM ADMINISTRATION/AGENCY:

Justice David Borden & Mike Lawlor, Connecticut Sentencing Commission: Supports: Justice Borden and Mr. Lawlor support the bill because it renames “provisional pardons” “Certificate of Relief from Barriers,” which in their estimate more accurately describes their nature and purpose. Further, the bill will expand the options holders of these certificates have for public housing; provide more guidance to public employers; expedite the process of obtaining the now-renamed certificate by allowing courts to issue them; and giving the Sentencing Commission oversight of evaluation of the program.

Office of Chief Public Defender, Deborah Del Prete Sullivan: Supports: Ms. Sullivan praised the changes to the name of the program and also the streamlining it provides for seekers of certificates before the Board of Parole and Pardons and allow Superior Court to have a role as well. She notes that certificates may only be issued under certain conditions.

Judicial Branch External Affairs Division, Deborah Fuller: Opposes: Ms. Fuller, on behalf of the branch, opposes the bill because they deem issuance of certificates to not be within their purview. She believes that the issuance of certificates is an administrative function better left to the Board of Parole and Pardons instead of an adjudicative matter before the courts. Moreover there are, in her words, “numerous questions,” raised by the inclusion of the branch in this process. Ms. Fuller also noted that the branch lacks the resources to adequately discharge this new duty in addition to leaving cases before the courts indefinitely since a certificate review can be offered “at any time.” Ms. Fuller also noted the implications future arrests would have upon court-issued certificates.

NATURE AND SOURCES OF SUPPORT:

Prison Reentry Initiative Coordinator, City of New Haven, Amy Meek: Ms. Meek, speaking on behalf of the City of New Haven supported the bill due to experiences that the city has had with provisional pardons. She notes that other states have clarified or streamlined their equivalents of Certificates of Relief from Barriers. Specifically, Ms. Meek explained how the lengthy approval process for the existing “provisional pardons” is incredibly cumbersome as it goes through the Board of Parole and Pardons. She opines that such a process is better suited for decisions to expunge an entire criminal record, which is a separate prerogative of the Board. She notes that recidivism is most common in the first six months of release according to studies, but “provisional pardon” process takes much longer. She also praised the portions of the bill that apply the new certificates to housing.

Legal Assistance Resource Center of Connecticut, Inc, Sara McKernan: Ms. McKernan and her organization strongly supported the original “provisional pardons” as a means to keep individuals employed or maintain occupational licenses. She is supportive of efforts to strengthen the program, including its renaming and its expansion to housing.

Virginia Downing: Ms Downing relayed her experience as a one-time convicted felon. Her transition back to civilian life was difficult and fraught with both the consequences of her incarceration, but also misfortune. She secured a certification for a nurse's aide position, but was unable to get a job in that field due to her conviction. Consequently, she has only recently been able to secure part-time employment and still has trouble with housing authorities. Ms. Downing believes passage of this bill will help her gain access to more opportunities in society.

Civil Justice Clinic, Quinnipiac University School of Law: Members of Quinnipiac's Civil Justice Clinic praised the bill as a means to facilitate successful reentry of certain convicted individuals back into society. They note that through the clinic, members routinely represent individuals denied housing or occupational licenses due to convictions. They view empowering the judiciary to issue certificates will place the process where it is needed most, at the time of conviction. In the clinic members' view, the judiciary, which has become familiar with these individuals in the course of their trial, is better suited than the Board of Parole and Pardons, which has no exposure to applicants beforehand. Clinic members also described enactment of the bill as a way to bring Connecticut law more into sync with the Model Penal Code, ABA Criminal Justice Standards and the Uniform Collateral Consequence of Conviction Act.

Political Action Chair, Black Student Alliance, Yale University, Nia Holston: Ms. Holston described an on-campus campaign to facilitate those seeking second chances after run-ins with the law. Unfortunately, she has found while working with a pardons clinic developed with Ms. Meek of the City of New Haven, many often air frustrations over the difference between provisional pardons and full pardons. She supports the bill to further clarify the differences and better execute the goals of providing individuals with a second chance.

Coalition for Criminal Justice Reform, Board Member Brian O'Shaughnessy: Mr. O'Shaughnessy, on behalf of his organization supports the bill noting its broader implications as compared to a similar House bill geared to juveniles. He praised the bill as a chance to facilitate effective reentry and could help produce tax-paying citizens. Citing the state's poor job creation record, he notes that removing barriers to gainful employment can only help Connecticut economically. He also notes a growing national consensus that increased incarceration among poor communities has not made those communities any safer. Given poor job prospects anyway, many recently released individuals face a cycle of recidivism, families with missing members and generational poverty, partly caused by the barriers Mr. O'Shaughnessy says this bill will reduce.

NATURE AND SOURCES OF OPPOSITION:

President, Connecticut Chapter of National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials, Neil Griffin: Mr. Griffin, on behalf of his organization opposed the bill on the grounds of its inclusion of housing authorities among the agencies that must accept a Certificate of Relief to Barriers. Particularly, he mentioned the impact this language would have on criminals convicted of sexually-based or alcohol-related offenses. He highlighted studies about recidivism and the conflicts with federal law in this area. Addressed in substitute language.

Vice-President of Housing and Legislation, Conn-NAHRO, Jeffrey Arn: Mr. Arn's testimony mirrored much of Mr. Griffin's, however, he expressed a concern that judge's could issue a certificate that could place a convicted person into public housing regardless of past convictions or a housing authority's screening process. Addressed in substitute language.

Executive Director, Enfield Housing Authority, Scott Bertrand: Mirroring the concerns of Mr. Arn & Mr. Griffin, Mr. Bertrand worried about judges inserting convicted persons into public housing against the will of the housing authority. He calls the review of a person's criminal background, which is part of housing authority's screening process, critical. Addressed in substitute language.

CT Conference of Municipalities, Ron Thomas: Mr. Thomas on behalf of the CCM offered concerns, rather than outright opposition to the bill. Specifically, he questioned the definition of public agency in the bill, while never being used in the body of the bill and urged a clarification. This change was made in the final bill.

Reported by: Matthew Szafranski

Date: 4/9/2012