Every day in the United States, with just the "click" of a button millions of Americans apply for employment. It's so effortless, in fact, that I can type this piece, pause for one or two seconds and CLICK; I just applied for a job, in literally, a blink.
"The internet has made it easier than ever... to find a job" according to a 2014 U.S. News and World Report. As numerous studies confirm that unemployment stress has replaced workplace stress as the number one cause of anxiety for most Americans, the advent of constant access to technology seems like a welcomed relief.
For the over 70 million Americans who have a criminal record however, the digital era has not only compounded the strain of unemployment, but the collateral effect has created a devastating, inhumane and seemingly permanent barrier to employment. One in four Americans has a criminal record. Even more painful: One in 10 is a veteran and as many as 1.7 million minor children have a mother or father who is incarcerated.
Most people with records have a non-violent offense history often committed during youth with federal incarceration a result of dated War on Drug policy. The stigma of having a criminal record is so grave that it automatically reduces the chance of gaining employment by 50 percent. While Ban the Box legislation and 2012 EEOC guidelines specifically prohibit unfair use of criminal background records and blanket bans, these laws can be toothless and nearly impossible to enforce. In fact, 92 percent of employers continue to ignore these sanctions and access criminal records.
If we have affirmed anything as a nation over these past sixteen days since the Michael Brown and now Eric Garner "death but no indictment" verdicts, it's that our criminal justice system is discriminatory, unconstitutional, and in dire need of repair, particularly in enforcement. Maltreatment of people of color by the police is growing and recently culminated in the murder of an innocent child "wielding" a toy gun. It has become glaringly evident that racism is ubiquitous, widely-accepted, if not "ordinary," systemic and pervasive in our laws and in many jurisdictions.
This injustice is even more apparent when confirming the racial disparities within employment and incarceration. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the unemployment rate among Whites declined in October of 2014 and is at 4.6 percent; statistics for Blacks are more than twice as high at 10.9 percent. It's well-documented and widely-accepted that minorities are disproportionately imprisoned for non-violent crimes;knowingly incarcerating and condemning one population to a lifetime of unemployment is not only inhumane but it is a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which is supposed to protect all Americans from all types of discrimination. Denying non-violent workers access to employment is also bad economic policy and morally bereft. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, "poverty is the worst form of violence."
More than any other time in America, the need for fair felon and misdemeanor employment legislation is critical and urgent. As enforcement of legislative efforts are a near impossibility, hiring practices continue to provide no options that lead to employment for non-violent people with records and eliminating unjust courtroom procedures will not occur overnight, there appears to be no other immediate solution for justice than to seal records from the public purview.
The Non-Violent Crimes Discrimination Act (NVCDA), an amendment to the Second Chance Act of 2007, is a simple, fair felon and misdemeanor employment policy that erases these unfair hiring barriers and acts of delayed discrimination by sealing the records of non-violent people after a crime-free period of two years and enrollment in a three-year job readiness program as "education has the largest positive impact on inmates." A recent RAND Corporation study affirmed that completion of such education programs inside prison can reduce future recidivism by more than 40 percent. NVCDA will also explore expungement of a record conviction after seven years.
While the core goals of NVCDA are to eliminate all barriers to employment, forms of discrimination, astronomical (and mounting) ineffective prison costs, additional benefits will be an increase in employment and public safety while simultaneously decreasing re-offend rates and federal SNAP funding. Sealing will enable non-violent people with records who have completed their sentences (and any other court-ordered requirements) to return to work barrier-free. Studies show that the Second Chance Act is already succeeding with states reporting hefty 11-18 percent reoffending rate reductions for inmates released in 2005 and 2007 according to the Council of State Governments. Employers and the public will not be able to access non-violent felon criminal records, law enforcement (and the limited scope of professions that require such information such as military, child-related fields) absolutely will.
Nearly all men and women in our prisons, at least 95 percent, will re-enter society according to 2004 Bureau of Justice figures. It's mind-blowing to think that one year of prison could have paid for four years of college. The time has come to move people with non-violent, non-serious offense history, who have completed their retribution, forward with the same ease we give to bankruptcy and DUI expungements. It's also time for America to recognize that racism is taught and that crime is often committed out of need, marginalization and a system devoid of options. Poverty continues because the system is broken, not the people; poverty is also a lack of money, not character.
NVCDA espouses the preference Americans have for rehabilitation over incarceration and magnifies the success of the Second Chance Act. NVCDA will help end the vicious cycle of lifetime unemployment, correct the unspeakable offense of wrongful incarceration, and give people, NON-VIOLENT people, their families, our veterans and ALL OF US OR NONE OF US a second and equal chance at life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Please consider supporting this sealing and healing process and sign our petition found here.