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Proposed Legislation May Offer Ex-Criminals Better Employment Opportunities

April 3, 2013 | Posted In Criminal Law - Better Employment Opportunities

Criminal attorneys in New Jersey who have represented repeat offenders know that a key factor in returning to a life of crime is desperation. If convicted criminals have no resources to find jobs and homes to start a new life, they are likely to end up back in jail. Now, three senators from New Jersey are proposing laws that may make it easier for ex-convicts to transition into life after prison, providing a foundation for a more stable and, hopefully, crime-free life.

The "Opportunity to Compete Act" seeks to do away with the check box asking applicants about their criminal history, and to ban ads that discourage criminal applications. If passed, employers will have to eliminate the criminal history check box on initial job applications, and can only inquire about background after making a conditional offer of employment. Once the conditional offer has been extended, the Act requires potential employees to disclose any criminal charges or convictions.

In making a final decision, employers who have extended a conditional offer are legally allowed to consider an applicant's previous convictions for "murder, arson, sex offense requiring registration, and terrorism, as well as any pending criminal charges." However, the employer must also consider the circumstances surrounding the crime, how long it has been since the conviction and jail time, and any suggestions for rehabilitation.

This bill would prohibit employers from making a hiring decision based on:

  • arrest records without convictions
  • expunged records
  • juvenile delinquency adjudications
  • municipal violations
  • jail time served over 10 years ago for the convictions of most crimes.

If an employer chooses not to hire a convicted criminal because of his or her previous record, the bill requires that the decision be sent out in writing. The written notice must include the results of a background check, and two forms—the "Applicant Criminal Record Consideration Form," and a "Notice of Rights."  The bill allows for a ten-day period of appeal, and if the position is still available after the ten days, the employer must reconsider based on the additional information provided in the appeal.

The passage of this bill has the potential to lower New Jersey's unemployment rate, which has held steady at 9.5% through January 2013. Many convicted criminals cannot find work after release from prison, and join the ranks of the state's unemployed.  But if the Act is passed, it will be easier for ex-cons to qualify for job openings.

Supporters of the Opportunity to Compete Act hope that providing criminals with a chance to secure gainful employment will discourage them from returning to their previous lives of crime. In recent years, more than half of all criminals released from jail cannot find work, and revert to their old ways in the face of poverty. Far too often, New Jersey criminal attorneys represent repeat offenders, and lengthy criminal records only put these criminals at a greater disadvantage.

Known as "ban the box" laws, acts like the Opportunity to Compete are becoming more popular, as state legislators try to provide opportunities to convicted criminals struggling to survive post-prison life. At the New Jersey law firm Helmer, Conley and Kasselman, PA, criminal attorneys hope that equal opportunities for employment will lower recidivism rates and help convicted criminals thrive as law-abiding citizens.

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