It is well established that the path to stability for the formerly incarcerated is through employment, yet studies show that simply asking “Have You Been Convicted of a Felony?” is a major barrier on two levels. First, it sends a message to the applicant that it is hopeless to apply; second, it allows employers to scrap an application without so much as an interview. Studies have proven this to be true.
A famous Milwaukee study found that Caucasian applicants received callbacks 35% of the time, but only 17% with a felony record. African-American applicants went from 15% to 4%, respectively. If only 4 out of 100 African-American Rhode Islanders with a felony can even get an interview, it is clear that the chances of honest employment are slim.
Roughly 25% of RI has a criminal record, and 17,000 people per year are released from the ACI. The New Mexico legislature issued a 2010 report showing their "Ban the Box" law will have “no fiscal impact.” Rhode Island legislators should feel safe knowing that ours would be the same.
Representative Scott Slater has introduced a bill, HB # 5101, to counter this hopelessness. It is similar to legislation passed in MA, CT, NY, MN, and NM over the past two years, and city/municipal ordinances around the nation (including Providence) which address this situation in some manner.
What it WILL do:
Allow applicants to explain their felony convictions at the interview stage, if they have been deemed otherwise qualified for the job;
Stop public view of arrests and dismissed charges;
Require an employer to put in writing, whenever the felony conviction is basis for denying employment, and refer to the specific conviction(s);
Allow an applicant to present evidence about the accuracy and/or relevance of the report;
What it WON’T do:
Will not override any law that mandates people with felonies, or certain felonies, from working in particular occupations- (children, elderly, financial, etc.);
Will not force employers to hire felons.
Representative Scott Slater has sponsored H5101 as a way of delaying that disclosure until the interview, unless state law bars people with certain felonies from holding particular jobs. The bill is co-sponsored by Representative Anastasia Williams (Chair of House Committee on Labor), and will allow applicants an opportunity to explain themselves while giving employers a chance to interview someone who could become their hardest working and most grateful employee.
We acknowledge that this legislation will create no jobs for this group of society, which is nearly 25% of our brothers, sisters, sons, and daughters. Many of those with convictions represent people with mental health struggles, substance abuse issues, or youthful indiscretions. This bill sends a message that our society believes in reintegration, forgiveness, and an end to debts paid to society. A working community is a safe community, and we call on the General Assembly, and Governor Lincoln Chaffee, to eliminate the barriers for those in pursuit of honest work.
Direct Action for Rights & Equality
RI Communities for Addiction Recovery Efforts
Rep. Scott Slater (District 10)
Rep. Anastasia Williams (District 9)
RI Jobs With Justice
National Employment Law Project
Drug Policy Alliance
Rep. Grace Diaz (District 11)
Rep. Leo Medina (District 12)
Dr. Joe Bevilacqua
Reed Cosper, RI Mental Health Advocate
Olneyville Neighborhood Association
RI Progressive Democrats
Jim Vincent, NAACP – RI Chapter
Ocean State Action
American Friends Service Committee- SENE
Councilman Miguel Luna (Ward 9)
Prof. Andrew Horwitz
Peter Wagner, Prison Policy Initiative
RI People’s Assembly
Sen. Harold Metts (District 6)
Rev. Janice Thompson
Pastor Jeff Williams
Rep. John Carnevale (District 13)
Scott Duhamel, IUPAT Local 195
Sen. Paul Jabour (District 5)
Sen. Rhoda Perry (District 3)
Rep. Maria Cimini (District 7)