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Criminal Records

Our first featured collection of 2014 examines the powerful effect of criminal records on many low-income Americans' lives. A criminal record erects barriers to various parts of a person's life, from housing to employment to family relationships--and because people of color are more likely to be arrested or incarcerated, they are more likely to suffer the collateral consequences of having a criminal record. Clearinghouse Review's wide and deep archive contains many strategies for helping clients surmount the challenges posed by a criminal record.

Risks and Rewards

Is Record Clearing Right for Your Noncitizen Client?

By Seth P. Lyons Clearing criminal records can give relief from many collateral consequences, but doing so for noncitizens may raise a host of complex issues. Filing some record-clearing petitions may pose immigration risks and yield limited benefits, while other mechanisms can help clients obtain crucial immigration relief. With the recent changes in immigration enforcement priorities, now more than ever advocates must understand the risks and rewards of record clearing. Download this article   |   Read more ➢

Legal Aid with Conviction

How to Combat Barriers to Reentry by Using the Law

By Vidhi Sanghavi Joshi

A low-income client’s interaction with the criminal justice system erects multifaceted barriers to social, political, and economic opportunities. However, a number of legal remedies are available under state and federal law to mitigate the effects of some of these barriers. Civil legal aid attorneys can and must take advantage of these laws to chip away at reentry barriers stemming from criminal justice involvement to help fight the poverty-to-prison cycle.

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Stemming the Tide of Crime-Free Rental Housing and Nuisance-Property Ordinances

By Emily Werth

Crime-free rental housing and nuisance-property ordinances penalize landlords for criminal activity or police calls associated with their rental properties and push out the tenants who live there. The ordinances can displace crime victims, increase homelessness, and disproportionately affect women, people of color, and people with disabilities. The proliferation of such ordinances can be beaten back by collaboration, intentional-discrimination claims, and threats to a municipality’s federal funds for not affirmatively furthering fair housing.

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People with Criminal Records

Resisting Practices that Undermine Self-Sufficiency, Public Safety, and Balanced Budgets

By Todd Belcore

People with criminal records face lifelong exclusion from many employment opportunities, and this increases recidivism rates. Employment barriers harm not just men and women with criminal records but their families, communities, and even their states, where skyrocketing rates of incarceration, disproportionately of people of color, contribute to budget deficits. Recent Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidance explains how the disparate impact of denying employment to people with criminal records may violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The Fair Credit Reporting Act offers additional protections; state and local policies can also help expand access to employment for people with criminal records.

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Using Consumer Law to Combat Criminal Record Barriers to Employment and Housing Opportunity

By Jason Hoge, Louis Prieto & Persis S. Yu

Employers and landlords often use criminal background checks to investigate potential employees and tenants, even though criminal record screening has been shown to be discriminatory, unreliable, and inaccurate. Criminal background checks often dash the hopes of people who have never even been convicted of crimes but were arrested at some point in the past. Understanding the Fair Credit Reporting Act and its interplay with state statutes can help legal services lawyers vindicate the rights of people harmed by criminal record screening.

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Increasing the Use of Executive Clemency to Help Low-Income People with Criminal Records

By Margaret Stapleton & Marie Claire Tran-Leung

Granting clemency is an expansive and individual power of the executive, and its exercise can break down the barriers to employment often faced by ex-offenders—and this means the difference between remaining in and escaping poverty. The next president should use his constitutionally based power to grant clemency frequently and should push for broader expungement rights for offenders as well as a society wide understanding of the value of democracy.

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The Intersection of Race, Poverty, and Crime

By Francisca D. Fajana

Any informed discussion of the criminal and juvenile justice systems must acknowledge the overwhelmingly disproportionate numbers of people of color caught up in those systems. In many communities incarceration has become so common as to be unremarkable. Although the number of people imprisoned in the United States and the racial disproportion have skyrocketed recently, these phenomena are deeply rooted in policies that one can trace to the post-Civil War era.

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When "Your Permanent Record" Is a Permanent Barrier

Helping Legal Aid Clients Reduce the Stigma of Criminal Records

By Sharon M. Dietrich

Criminal records are widely available and present many serious barriers to low-income people and people of color. Advocates can begin to remove these barriers by challenging the very availability and extent of their clients’ criminal records.

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