By: Heather Garretson. Published by: Social Sciences Research Network, Michigan State Bar Foundation, Ottawa County Bar Association, The Cameron Foundation, State Bar of Michigan Criminal Law Section. Published on: February 18, 2016
Focusing on New York’s long-established reentry operation, this article assesses the application of certificates designed to reduce employment barriers for former convicts. New York’s current system offers two forms of status restoration: Certificate of Relief from Disabilities (CRD) and Certificate of Good Conduct (CGC). The former is designated for individuals convicted of no more than one felony (or any number of misdemeanors, whereas the latter benefits those convicted of multiple felonies, following a waiting period. Since its implementation, other states have adopted similar policy, including Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, New Jersey, North Carolina, Colorado, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Vermont.
Data reveals that certificates are utilized far less than intended, despite a 2005 amendment stating that all parolees should be eligible for CRDs. For instance, while 11,265 people were released into the NY community in 2008, just slightly over 3,000 certificates were issued. In addition, evidence suggests that few people actually request certificates. Much of this can be attributed to a lack of knowledge amongst attorneys, judges, and correctional officials regarding certificates’ potential to enhance the reentry process. As a result, parolees have little access to crucial information, despite the large focus on employment during the transition from institution to civilian life.
Several examples of anecdotal evidence mentioned in the article emphasize the vital role of legal aid providers in securing access to work. This help may come in the form of education of one’s rights as well as guidance in properly completing relevant forms. Other situations may require legal counsel to address instances of discrimination. Meanwhile, legal aid providers should also become more engaged in informing criminal justice practitioners and employers of the function of certificates. Coupled with strong anti-discrimination legislation, increased access to certificates offers the best chance of attaining proper work. By pursuing progress in this area of employment, legal aid providers can help strengthen reentry efforts by reducing the collateral consequences of incarceration. Such work can allow access to consistent income, in turn strengthening one’s chances of maintaining a crime-free lifestyle during the critical early stages of reintegration.