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November 26, 2012 (The Hour)

Connecticut considers easing housing barriers for formerly incarcerated citizens

Each month in Connecticut, more than 1,500 people are released from state prisons and face more hard time trying to get housing and jobs because of their records. About 79 percent of them are expected to be rearrested within five years, according to a Correction Department study released earlier this year.

Some state officials believe that recidivism rate would be lower if Connecticut enacted a law making it easier for formerly incarcerated people to get homes and jobs, but others are adamantly opposed to giving criminals special rights.

The proposed law would allow judges and the state Board of Pardons and Paroles to issue "certificates of rehabilitation" to the formerly incarcerated who don't pose a public danger. It would require public housing authorities, employers and state licensing agencies to consider those certificates while evaluating job and housing applicants, but not mandate that their applications be approved.

Many states in recent years have changed employment practices, enacted policies to restore civil rights and expanded access to public benefits for convicts, according to a study released this year by The Sentencing Project, a nonprofit group in Washington, D.C., that does research and advocacy on criminal justice issues.

"I have fully paid my debt to society," Virginia Downing, 62, of New Haven, told a legislative committee earlier this year. "I have not had any criminal involvement in 14 years. It is not reasonable that I should continue to be burdened by collateral consequences."

Downing said she has had trouble finding affordable housing and a full-time job because of her 1998 felony drug possession conviction that sent her to prison for six months. She has worked as a part-time crossing guard for New Haven schools the past six years. She said she got certified as a nurse's aide in 2006, but her conviction kept her from getting a job in that profession.

Michael Lawlor, state undersecretary for criminal justice policy and vice chairman of the Sentencing Commission, summed up the situation facing many: "If you make it virtually impossible for someone to get a job, then you make it a virtual certainty that they're going to commit more crimes.  "If you don't have a place to live, it makes it more likely."


Issue Area(s): Sentencing Policy, Incarceration, Felony Disenfranchisement, Collateral Consequences