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New York Governor Reduces Certain Barriers for Ex-Offenders

People with past criminal convictions, especially those who’ve spent time in prison, can suffer roadblocks to education, employment and housing that persist years and even decades after they’ve served their sentences – destroying the American Dream not only for them but for their families. Governor Cuomo created the Council on Community Re-Entry and Reintegration in July 2014 with the goal of identifying barriers formerly incarcerated people face when re-entering society after incarceration and suggesting changes. On September 21, 2015, Governor Cuomo accepted all twelve recommendations of the Council. https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-announces-executive-actions-reduce-barriers-new-yorkers-criminal-convictions

In a nutshell, the recommendations remove some obstacles people with convictions face when applying for New York State public housing or Section 8 rental assistance administered by the state, obtaining job licensing by the State, or applying for employment with a New York State agency.

With respect to obtaining employment with a New York State agency, an applicant will not be required to discuss or disclose information about prior convictions until and unless the agency has interviewed the candidate and is interested in hiring him or her. Similarly, with respect to New York State financed housing, discrimination based on a conviction alone will be forbidden, without a further inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the crime and the applicant’s age and conduct since the crime. Those applying for certain State licenses for employment will also not be barred simply because of a prior conviction without a more in-depth individualized inquiry into the applicant’s background.

Governor Cuomo clearly recognized, by his adoption of all recommendations, that too often, a criminal conviction prevents true integration into mainstream society, resulting in increased rates of recidivism. This is certainly a great step in the right direction. However, more is needed. Governor Cuomo’s executive actions only apply to government entities. These actions don’t prevent private landlords or private employers from denying an applicant based solely on his or her record. An expungement statute would truly give people a “fair chance” in all arenas both public and private because the conviction would be removed from a person’s record, and thus would be unavailable to a public or private employer or administrator. It is our continued hope that the State Legislature moves forward with a road expungement or sealing bill to help the many people and their families who need it.

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