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Dismantling The Barriers

1 In 3 Have A Criminal Record. Help Past Offenders Rejoin Society

By Stephanie Ceccato

Special to the GPHN

An estimated one in three adults in the United States has a criminal record. For most offenders, returning to the community after being in jail or prison is a difficult transition. Sadly, there are many barriers to reentry, including finding housing, employment, and accessing public assistance.

This is what is known as the “collateral consequences” to being incarcerated, convicted or even arrested (without a conviction). Across the country, there are 48,229 recorded state and federal restrictions that limit or prohibit people with criminal records from accessing employment, occupational licensing, housing, voting, education, and other opportunities.

In Colorado alone, there are 711 possible collateral consequences on the books. For a detailed look by state, check out niccc.csgjusticecenter.org/map/.

Colorado does allow many people to vote with a criminal record. Even those with a felony conviction can vote, as long as they have completely finished serving their sentence, including time spent on parole. There are even instances where those currently serving jail times can exercise their right to vote.

You can’t vote if you are incarcerated for a felony. However there are many instances in Colorado where you can vote, including if:

• You have a criminal conviction and have served your sentence, including any parole

• You are a pretrial detainee in jail

• You are on probation for a misdemeanor or felony

• You are currently serving a sentence in jail for a misdemeanor

(For more info, and to register to vote, check out govotecolorado.com)

Nationally, there has been a “ban the box” movement to remove the checkbox from initial employment applications that asks if a potential employee has a criminal record. This allows individuals to at least get a foot in the door and have employers see their credentials before automatically dismissing any and all past offenders. Whereas Colorado does not have a complete “ban the box” bill, we do have House Bill 1263, enacted in 2012, which applies to state employment and licensing. This law “prohibits state agencies and licensing agencies from performing a background check until the agency determines that the applicant is a finalist for the position or the applicant receives a conditional offer.”

As the Colorado law only applies to state employers, advocates continue to try to pass a true “ban the box” bill for all employers. So far, those efforts have been unsuccessful. Across the nation, as activists continue to gain support for the “ban the box” movement for employment applications, they are turning their attention to housing applications, too. Many past offenders have trouble finding housing based purely on their criminal records.

As many in government realize the benefits of removing barriers to reentry and providing support to past offenders as they rejoin society, we are beginning to see reductions in recidivism rates.

In 2008, the Federal Second Chance Act was enacted and it created The National Reentry Resource Center (NRRC). The NRRC’s purpose is to provide education, training, and funding to governmental agencies and nonprofits to prevent recidivism. Colorado has received nearly $9.5 million in federal grants for programs that, among other things, assist with screening and treatment of mental health and substance use both pre and post release. Overall, Colorado saw a 24 percent decline in the rate of probation revocations from 2006 to 2015.

Of course, as a community, we should be trying to prevent our neighbors, our sons, our sisters from being locked up in the first place. The United States is now home to less than five percent of the world’s population, but nearly 25 percent of the world’s imprisoned people. Obviously, change on many fronts is needed.

Since 1990, the money spent to fund prisons in Colorado rose five times faster than the funding for education. In 2015, Colorado spent an average of $39,303 per inmate. By contrast, only an average of $9,944 was spent per Colorado student in the 2015-2016 fiscal year.

Racial discrimination by the police, the war on drugs disparate impact on minority communities, and the need for general reform of our criminal laws are all issues that are slowly being brought to the attention of the broader public consciousness.

Let’s all listen, learn, and support these necessary changes.

Stephanie Ceccato represents District 9 on the board of Greater Park Hill Community, Inc.


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