Statement From Megan French-Marcelin, #WORKINGfuture Campaign Coordinator,
On Rhode Island Senate Judiciary Vote To Advance Bill S0610
“Tonight the Rhode Island Senate Judiciary voted unanimously to advance S0610, or ‘Fair Chance Licensing Reform,’ a bill that will reduce barriers to accessing licensing for people with conviction records across the state. The bill’s passage from this committee to the House, creates a path to victory with direct and positive implications, not just for Fair Chance Licensing, but for Rhode Island as a state and Rhode Islanders as people. The legislation will ensure meaningful pathways to economic stability and growth and combat barriers to employment faced by people with conviction records. The legislation is now one step closer to Governor Raimondo’s desk.
This is about economic justice for all. By almost all measures, Rhode Island’s economy is thriving – but access to this economy lacks equity. The United States Bureau of Labor reported an unemployment rate of just 3.9 percent in the state as of February 2019; and it has predicted that between 2012 and 2022, Rhode Island’s local economy will generate more than 50,000 new jobs. While many people in the state, now have access to this promise of a prosperous future, absent such forward-looking legislative action as Fair Chance Licensing, economic insecurity will remain the persistent reality for Rhode Islanders with criminal records.
Nationwide, there are 45,000 laws and statutes – extended punishment often referred to as collateral consequences – that impede the ability of people living with records to obtain stable housing, access to education, or find gainful employment. In Rhode Island, nearly 400 state laws create extended punishment barriers that impact the ability of people with records to secure basic needs. When coupled with employer discrimination, over 60 percent of formerly incarcerated people nationwide, are unemployed a year after their release, even as formerly incarcerated people are more likely to be actively engaged in the labor market – working or looking for work – than the general population. Black women in particular, are disproportionately impacted.
In Rhode Island, of the 150 conviction-related professional licensing restrictions, only 42 apply any standard to how and when a conviction can be considered in relation to the license in hand. For the most part, however, licensing authorities have unfettered power to automatically disqualify an individual for any record at all. The arbitrary application of blanket bans for people with any justice involvement undermines both holistic reentry and economic stability, and furthermore it establishes and entrenches the perpetual punishment of people who have worked to obtain training and education, and who have done so in the face of overwhelming obstacles.
The moment is now. Rhode Island has the opportunity to pass further and meaningful economic reforms that would allow people with records and their families to prosper, while at the same time ensuring true public safety for all Rhode Islanders. People who return home from incarceration are returning both to their own homes and to society at large. Communities that are stable economically, for all people, are stronger precisely because they reflect the equity they have fostered through good policies and fair hiring practices.”