May 24, 2016

The ACLU of Rhode Island issued the following statement today in advance of a major conference being held tomorrow, designed to encourage the employment of ex-offenders. The conference, “Road Map to Reentry,” has been organized by U.S. Attorney Peter Neronha, with support from the Department of Corrections, the Governor’s office and many others:

“The ACLU of Rhode Island commends the U.S. Attorney’s initiative in organizing this important conference. Reintegration efforts are critical to reducing crime in our communities and, consequently, also easing the taxpayers’ burdens in maintaining a burgeoning and expensive prison system.

“However, it is essential to recognize the many barriers that the government itself erects to prevent ex-offenders from being employed, particularly through state laws that disqualify many of them from a wide range of jobs."

“In the past five years alone, the Rhode Island General Assembly has approved close to a dozen laws that presumptively bar ex-offenders who have committed crimes from qualifying for certain areas of employment or professional licensing by the state. While often promoted as protecting vulnerable populations, these laws have the effect of eliminating qualified ex-offenders from a wide swath of jobs by failing to take into account such factors as the time since the offense was committed or the rehabilitative efforts of a particular applicant.

“Among the occupations for which such restrictions have been imposed in recent years are nurses, interpreters for the deaf and hard of hearing, municipal recreation department employees, massage therapists, firefighters, and nursing home and long term care employees. These laws cover thousands of individual jobs and thousands of ex-offenders. In addition, the ‘disqualifying offenses’ established by law in these statutes, when they are not left open-ended, routinely cover not only so-called ‘crimes of violence,’ but also felony convictions for drug offenses, banking violations or larceny, to name a few.

“This inconsistent approach – encouraging the reintegration of individuals into the community while at the same time keeping numerous occupations out of their reach – sends a mixed message to both the community and ex-offenders. It is both counter-productive and damaging to efforts to reduce recidivism.

“We hope that the state agencies and others participating in this worthwhile conference will do what they can to halt, and even help reverse, this self-defeating practice.”

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