Jobs after Conviction: Not likely!

It is difficult enough to find work.  Saddle a person with a “conviction” or even a “probation” and employers will quickly pass on that applicant.  Our “tough on crime” mentality over the past 20-30 years has created an environment where 17 year olds (treated as adults for even minor offenses) with a first possession of marijuana, or CEOs with a one time DWI, or 20 year old first time shoplifters are now saddled with criminal records.  Years ago, our legislature created “deferred adjudication” which was a probation without a conviction. However, in the digital age of electronic records, employers see that deferred and treat it just like a conviction and pass on the applicant.  Even where possibilities exist to “seal” records or make them non-public, there is often a waiting period before the records are removed, resulting in internet records that can last a lifetime! A one time mistake should not hinder someone for life!

A recent NY Times article explores this problem as well:

There is no dispute that far too many Americans carry the burden of a criminal record — at least 70 million, by recent estimates — or that the easy accessibility of these records in the information age imposes debilitating obstacles, especially when it comes to finding a job.

The harder question is what to do about it.

Employment is, after all, an important factor in keeping people out of the criminal justice system, yet, in a struggling job market, employers are often tempted to turn away anyone who appears to pose even the slightest risk. Thanks to the proliferation of companies offering instant online background checks, a vast majority of employers now run such checks on all job applicants. They can, and do, refuse to hire people on the grounds of an arrest itself — let alone a conviction.

It’s time for a change!  Tough on Crime needs to become Smart on Crime!  Legislation was introduced this session which would allow for DIVERT programs in first offender DWI cases.  This is great news!  This allows a non-violent, misdemeanor arrested person (first offense only) a chance to attend treatment, do community service, attend classes, keep a job, and eventually have their record sealed or expunged.  Let’s hope this bill passes!

Just putting people in jail doesn’t cure the problem that exists,’ said Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston), who himself was arrested for DWI in Austin in 2007 and received deferred prosecution, according to public records. Rep. Dutton argues diversion programs worked in Harris County, which includes Houston.

His bill, HB 543 calls for giving counties the power to create specialty courts, the so-called Direct Intervention using Voluntary Education, Restitution, and Treatment (DIVERT) program, for people arrested for, charged with, or convicted of drunk driving the first time. “It sends a signal that the state is not here to just beat you up if you have a problem, that we’re here to help,” said Dutton. Offenders would pay for program fees, weekly testing, and counseling and be required to have an Interlock device on their car for at least a year.

After two years, the bill says a court could decide to file an order of nondisclosure “as if the defendant had received a discharge and dismissal…with respect to all records and files related to the defendant’s arrest.”

When asked if he was letting off people easy for drinking and driving, Rep. Dutton said, “We figured out that being tough on crime by being dumb on taxpayers money was a waste of time and a waste of resources.” Rep. Dutton says the cost per county would depend on how much each county was already spending on probation, which he says is cheaper than jail time.

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