New York City Bar Association Report Urges Legal Profession to Take Lead in Enhancing Opportunities for People Released from Prisons
April 8, 2008
Oroma Mpi, 212-382-6713
New York City Bar Association Report Urges Legal Profession to
Take Lead in Enhancing Opportunities for
People Released from Prisons
Legal employers should take a leading role in securing employment for individuals who are released from prison and seek reintegration into society, according to a report released today by the New York City Bar Association’s Task Force on Employment Opportunities for the Previously Incarcerated. The Task Force report explores the myriad of barriers faced by the previously incarcerated in securing employment, addresses ways to surmount them, and makes recommendations regarding the legal profession’s part in that effort.
The report, titled “Legal Employers Taking the Lead: Enhancing Employment Opportunities for the Previously Incarcerated,” outlines a number of specific barriers, including:
- Lack of Basic Work Skills: Formerly incarcerated individuals, despite the availability of job readiness programs in some prison facilities, are not adequately equipped with the skill set to meet basic job requirements in both the private and public sectors.
- Employers’ Reluctance to Hire: Misconceptions and biases against the formerly incarcerated among employers are deep-rooted. The industries most willing to employ such applicants are those whose workers have little customer contact and require few skills, such as in manufacturing and construction. Furthermore, many employers are concerned with the liability they may incur for injury inflicted by an employee hired with a criminal record, although plaintiffs find it difficult to mount a successful negligent hiring claim against responsible employers.
- Employment Bans: Formerly incarcerated individuals are barred by state and federal statutes from many occupations, particularly those involving vulnerable populations, such as the elderly, the disabled and children, or from obtaining occupational licenses. After September 11th, there have been numerous federal law restrictions on employment of individuals with criminal records. For example, airport baggage handlers are now required to obtain security seals from the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection.
The report also offers several means of facilitating the hiring of individuals released from prison:
- Workforce Intermediaries: The report strongly recommends the use of workforce intermediaries, organizations that provide job readiness and skills training, job placement assistance, and follow-up support to applicants after employment. These organizations can successfully interface between the employer and employee and encourage employers to frequently turn to them for help with hiring and retention.
- Employer Incentives: State and federal incentives can increase employer willingness to hire previously incarcerated persons. For example, the Federal Bonding Program of the Department of Labor issues fidelity bonds to protect employers against theft, embezzlement or forgery by covered employees. Another incentive is the Work Opportunity Tax Credit authorized by the Small Business Job Protection Act of 1996, which reduces an employer’s federal income tax liability.
- Statutory Protection: Article 23-A of the New York Correction Law prohibits an employer from discriminating against a job applicant on the ground of a prior conviction. When making a determination, an individual assessment of each applicant and his or her record is required and employers should act in accordance with this policy. It is also unlawful for a state or local authority to deny a license application on that ground unless (a) there is a direct relationship between the criminal offense and the specific license or employment sought; or (b) the issuance of the license or granting of employment would pose an unreasonable risk to property or to the well-being of surrounding individuals.
The Task Force makes the following recommendations:
- Law firms and other legal employers should be as willing to hire, and provide advancement opportunities to, persons released from prison as any other individuals possessing comparable job skills;
- Legal employers should take full advantage of the job placement and post-placement services provided by workforce intermediaries to identify, employ and provide supportive services to individuals released from prison;
- All appropriate steps should be taken to broadly publicize the availability of, and services provided by, workforce intermediaries, and the success they have achieved in placing these individuals in productive and remunerative employment;
- All statutory and regulatory restrictions and disqualifications on licensure and employment based upon criminal convictions should be reviewed and modified to the extent (i) there is not a direct relationship between the conduct constituting the offense and the license or job sought, and (ii) granting the license or employment in the job would not pose an unreasonable risk to individual or public safety or property.
“The legal profession must be a leader in stopping the cycle of recidivism among the prison population, with the enormous attendant economic and social costs,” said Michael A. Cooper, Chair of the Task Force. Association President Barry Kamins said, “The Association will use this excellent report to work with legal employers to encourage their hiring of individuals released from prison and set an example to other professions and industries of what can be accomplished in this area.”
A copy of the full report can be found here: http://www.nycbar.org/pdf/report/Task_Force_Report08.pdf.
About the Association
The New York City Bar Association (www.nycbar.org) was founded in 1870, and since then has been dedicated to maintaining the high ethical standards of the profession, promoting reform of the law, and providing service to the profession and the public. The Association continues to work for political, legal and social reform, while implementing innovative means to help the disadvantaged. Protecting the public’s welfare remains one of the Association’s highest priorities.