Labor and Public Employees Committee

JOINT FAVORABLE REPORT

Bill No.:

HB-6219

Title:

AN ACT CONCERNING COMMUNITY REENTRY BY PERSONS WHO WERE INCARCERATED.

Vote Date:

3/9/2017

Vote Action:

Joint Favorable

PH Date:

2/16/2017

File No.:

SPONSORS OF BILL:

Labor and Public Employees Committee

REASONS FOR BILL:

Persons released from correctional facilities are having a difficult time obtaining employment.

RESPONSE FROM ADMINISTRATION/AGENCY:

Scott Jackson, Commissioner, CT Department of Labor

Commissioner Jackson's testimony supported this bill because he has seen good results from second chances. As employers find themselves in stiffer competition for employees, they are actively seeking to tap new talent. Economic security is restorative and a great benefit in helping returning citizens once again enter into society. Results in a survey done in December by the Malta Justice Initiative showed 75% of respondents had a willingness to hire returning citizens for positions they had difficulty filling. This is a chance for them to overcome and thrive.

Commission on Human Rights and Opportunity (CHRO)

Written testimony supported this bill stating the elimination of barriers to equal employment opportunities is one of this Commission's core issues. Criminal records should not automatically preclude consideration for a job that may not even be related to the crimes committed. Skills and ability should be the criteria to be considered for employment.

Scott Semple, Commissioner, CT Department of Correction

Mr. Semple's testimony cited programs and business who have been helpful in re-entry programs, including several Reintegration Centers that assist inmates in making a successful transition back into the community. By improving the employment rate of ex-offenders, Connecticut will continue to lower rates of recidivism and see a corresponding reduction in the inmate population and number of prisons.

Representative Brandon L. McGee, Jr.

Rep. McGee's testimony said he personally investigated many programs identifying problems inmates face after completing their sentences and re-entering society and the community. There are a host of barriers in readjustment including those in housing and employment, and if they fail, they too often revert to a lifestyle that leads back to prison. When former inmates are once again able to create a life, their children get their fathers and mothers back, communities are revitalized and the reduced recidivism leads to lower crime rates. It is necessary to bring together a broad group of partners not only from the government, but also business, nonprofits and community organizations as well.

NATURE AND SOURCES OF SUPPORT:

William J. Fox, President, Conard Corporation

As a small business owner with 25 employees, he has found former offenders to often be better employees than those never incarcerated. They seem to realize how difficult it is for them to find jobs so they are particularly appreciative and turn out to be model employees with a strong sense of loyalty.

Michael J. Daly, Self

Mr. Daly has an extensive and impressive background including being an honorably discharged Vietnam Era Air Force Veteran who served on the Air Force One Communication Team in Europe and Washington, D.C. He retired from American Airlines and had a Legal career as a commercial litigator. Mr. Daly has several medical issues including being a type-one diabetic who uses an insulin pump as well as a cancer survivor who underwent chemo therapy and raised over $75,000 for cancer survivorship programs. He is hearing impaired and has severe balance issues. He volunteered for the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, CTD Children's Medical Center, Connecticut Challenge, the Jordan Porco Foundation and his church. While all these should be respected, he said “you will probably only remember the one thing about him that defies me”. While serving as a bankruptcy trustee in 2009, he deposited bankruptcy estate funds in the amount of $10,100 into his personal account. He was holding in excess of 7 million dollars in trust funds which were all properly accounted for. He made full restitution well before he plead and served 14 months of an 18 month sentence in Deven's Federal Medical Center in Ayer, MA and paid a $15,000 fine. He has completed 3 years on probation without incident and has been attempting to move forward to re-build his life. After a period of incarceration, some of the most important things an individual needs are a way to re-establish their self-esteem and self-respect, be able to support their family and feel as if they are able to contribute to society. No amount of legislation can abolish or change the public perception of those with criminal convictions. He said there are programs that attempt to help those with re-entry such as the certificate of employability, the bonding program and the ability to apply and receive a real estate sales persons' license. He cited details and not necessarily positive results of his experiences with each of these. Prejudice is apparent in the state agencies despite the legislative policy and he offered suggestions on how to combat this. In his opinion, re-entry is far more difficult than putting yourself through school, law school, fighting cancer and even serving time.

Nicholas A. Yanucelli, President, Malta Justice Initiative

The war on crime has been waged at a huge financial at a cost of $41,000 annually per bed and has also exacted a heavy human toll. He referred to research showing employment is the critical factor in whether inmates succeed with re-entry release. When an ex-offender can find and hold a job within the first year of release, they will not recidivate.

John Tejada, Self

Mr.Tejada had earned a bachelor's degree from one of the top 20 universities in the country and worked for companies such as Merrill Lynch, ESPN, and Tribune Broadcasting. He had no history of alcohol abuse and has never taken an illicit drug. However, five years ago he made a mistake and committed a crime that led to imprisonment. Once released, he had to find place to live, a way to get around and a job, but nothing prepared him for how difficult this would be. Even though he had an education and job skills, it was nearly impossible to find employment once employers found out he had been incarcerated. Ex-offenders need help. There should be more resources to aid those looking to rejoin society.

Tom Swan, Executive Director, Connecticut Citizen Action Group

He testified on behalf of member families and said this pro-family position is only fair.

Scott Schwartz, Self

He submitted testimony supporting this bill only if it doesn't discriminate against any class of offender re-entering society including registered “sex offenders”. He cited a New Zealand study that reported relapse prevention plans of 39 sexual recidivists and 49 non-recidivists. They found factors such as adequate accommodations; employment and secondary support systems separated recidivists from non-recidivists. This supports the importance of transition to the community and addressing not just sex offender issues but also those addressing general resettlement.

Cindy Prizio, Executive Director, CT for One Standard of Justice

She testified sex offenders have become a class of people who are being denied reintegration into society because of misguided laws and policies that lump all offenders of sex crimes in the same pot. The offender population deserves a chance to become fully employed, educated and functioning members of communities. Employment is where all reentry begins. Many people have been forced to leave highly skilled paid positions for menial minimum wage jobs. She submitted information on several programs aimed at helping sex offenders return to society.

Maya Menlo, New Haven Legal Assistance Reentry Clinic

Ms. Menlo submitted testimony relating their experiences concerning clients with criminal records who often struggle to provide for their families. Often clients were already offered a position, but the offers were rescinded after viewing the background check results. Even very old convictions continue to haunt even the most rehabilitated members of the reentry community. Connecticut must do more to limit the role a person's criminal history can play in hiring decisions.

Rev. Dr. Sandra Wiens, First Congregational Church, Guilford, CT

Her congregation has been involved in re-entry programs for 17 years and learned there is a much greater chance of success in life if they are supported by a sound re-entry program.

Michele Mudrick, Legislative Advocate, Connecticut Conference, United Church of Christ

Her conference supports enhanced employment opportunities to persons recently released from correctional facilities and also for tax incentives for employers who provide jobs opportunities to them. These supports are necessary to achieve consistent long- term stability.

Tai Walker, CEO, The Tai Walker Company, LLC

As an ex-prisoner, he suffered firsthand the experience of being discriminated in the workforce. Prior to prison, he earned his Bachelor's Degree and obtained his Master's after prison. He decided he was no longer going to set himself up for failure and launched his first partnership in a restaurant in Brooklyn, NY. He now has three operating locations in NYC where they employ persons with criminal records. He has now launched his first restaurant in CT, the place where his crimes were committed and where he is now a law abiding citizen.

Julia Wilcox, Senior Public Policy Specialist, The Alliance

Connecticut has long been considered a national model and at the forefront of criminal justice reform with real and proven results. There is an anticipated decrease in offender population within the DOC facilities in 2017 and beyond, so there will be a corresponding need for additional supervised placements. It is essential the state recalibrate the necessary funding and infrastructure to accommodate this shift and ensure continued success.

Edward B. Quinlan, Former Director of Community Services with the DOC

He said current levels of offender employment are not encouraging. Research suggests during the first year following release, steady employment is the most important factor in preventing reincarnation. Connecticut employers are interested in helping solve the problems. America has the highest incarcerate rate in the world. It is several times the rate of any other western democracy. This bill reflects the spirit of increasing gainful ex-offender employment.

Gwen Pastor, Policy Analyst, Connecticut Association foir Human Services

Although she mentioned this bill in her testimony, her focus was on the minimum wage issues.

Ralph Jones, Volunteer tutor, EMERGE CT

He has seen tremendous value in well-conceived programs combined with practical employment for formerly incarcerated persons re-entering the communities. This combination has achieved a 14% 2-year recidivism rate compared with the 47% rate generally experienced in CT. The cost of getting people back on their feet is far less than the cost of re-incarnation. ($7,315 per person in the EMERGE CT program vs $50,000 annually for prison) .

Andrea Comer, Executive Director, Connecticut Business and Industsry Association

CBIA has always been a strong advocate of criminal justice reform through such efforts as Second Chance and the Malta Imitative. They hosted a workforce development conference featuring a panel on hiring ex-offenders that included Commissioner Semple and two formerly incarcerated and currently gainfully employed individuals. This is not only the right thing to do morally, but it is the right thing to do for our state's economic health. The tax incentive component of this bill should be carefully examined to ensure it doesn't generate a fiscal burden in this time of budget crisis.

Gordon S. Bates, former Executive Director, CT Prison Association

He worked in this capacity from 1980 to 1997 and supports reentry assistance programs. With few exceptions, men and women in these programs realize that finding a job for which they were qualified was an absolute must if they were to have any success in the free world and avoid the temptations to return to crime in order to sustain themselves and their families. Ongoing counseling and moral support are necessary for those in search of viable jobs.

Justine Couvares, Chief Program Officer, Chrysalis Center, Inc.

Through job training and employment services, this program helps those living in poverty, Veterans, women and childrens, young adults and individuals who are struggling with mental health, addiction, HIV/AIDS and those returning from incarceration and homelessness. Their clients gain career skills and reduce the likelihood of ever returning to incarceration resulting in stronger families and neighborhoods.

Lawrence Albert, former Acting CT Commissioner of Correction, Deputy Commissioner of Correction

His strong background and experience support the positive impact on reducing recidivism and keeping former inmates in the community. This helps reduce the need for taxpayer support of families and also helps communities stay more stable. This bill is a first step in assisting ex-offenders so they can stay in the community. It dramatically reduces the financial and social cost associated with incarceration.

William Eastwood, Self

Mr. Eastwood was not convicted of a sex assault or a contact crime, but (allegedly) made a threat while intoxicated. The trial court assumed his intent was sexual and he was classified as a sex offender. In 2009, he was released after serving an effective 9-year sentence and an additional six years for a parole violation for writing a book on human potential in prison. He was released again in 2015. The testimony offered his opinions on why some programs were just an expensive feel-good/ get-tough- on -crime Band-Aid type of legislation. He supports this bill only as long as it doesn't discriminate against any class of offenders reentering society, including those with sexual offenses.

Gus Marks-Hamilton, Graduate Student, UCONN School of Social Work

He offered his personal experiences of witnessing the difficulty formerly incarcerated people have as they transition out of correctional facilities. No matter if the route taken is work release programs, halfway houses or directly back into their communities, these men and women possess a powerful drive and eagerness to rebuild their lives.

Joe Horvath, Assistant Policy Director, Yankee Institute for Public Policy

The start of a prison sentences should not be the end of someone's life. Connecticut has taken steps towards decriminalization and providing opportunities to enhance re-entry. This should be drafted without overburdening the state or employers and not be a risk to public safety.

Hartford Foundations for Public Giving

Testimony was submitted in support of this bill because it recognizes the critical need to provide adequate support to reentering citizens to prevent recidivism and enable these individuals to contribute to the economic prosperity of the state. They urged the elimination of blanket prohibitions and development of more specific criteria that considers both the nature of the crime and the length of time since the conviction that would allow the state and other organizations to open additional opportunities for reentry.

Roger Chapell, Self

Policy makers and those who enforce the registry may hold the view it is not intended as punishment, but it can't be denied that it has the effect of stigmatizing those on the list. They indicate a person is deserving of suspicion, cautionary exclusion and supplementary vigilantism. This is common in private websites that advertise a predator is living among them. In our hiring culture, which is largely done online, a registrant has no opportunity to meet with an employer to explain the circumstances of his/her registry status. Often even after being hired, when policies change they are not kept in the job. Promotion is unlikely. He supports the bill as long as it doesn't discriminate against any class of offenders reentering society, including those with sexual offenses.

NATURE AND SOURCES OF OPPOSITION:

None submitted.

Reported by: Marie Knudsen

Date: March 24, 2017