Tools to End the Prison to Poverty Pipeline

A prison sentence often doesn’t end on the day of release. For many people with conviction records, their sentence will continue for years to come with barriers to employment and housing.

Research in the report, “Jobs after Jail: Ending the prison to poverty pipeline,” by the Alliance for a Just Society, show that states have an average of 123 mandatory bans and restrictions preventing people with felony convictions from employment in certain occupations or from obtaining certain occupational or business licenses.

In Washington state alone, there are more than 90 career paths that are unavailable to someone who has a criminal record. Imagine having completed your sentence and being released into a community where you can’t be hired as a laborer, or work in transportation, business, education, social services, cosmetology, land development, public safety, or health care. For millions of people across the country, a past mistake can be a sentence to a lifetime of poverty.

According to the National Employment Law Center, “A 2011 study of the formerly incarcerated found that employment was the single most important influence on decreasing recidivism.” Other research shows that between 60 and 75 percent of people with a conviction record are jobless one year after release.

Beyond recidivism, though, finding work helps keep those with conviction records out of poverty. The Center for American Progress notes that a 2013 study found that that nation’s poverty rate would have been down 20 percent between 1980 and 2004 “if not for mass incarceration and the subsequent criminal records that haunt people for years after they have paid their debt to society.”

Recommendations in “Jobs after Jail” show that there are a variety of tools that can be used to ensure that a conviction record does not lead to a lifetime of poverty, including “Banning the Box” on employment applications, re-evaluating laws restricting employment in specific occupations, and making those with conviction records eligible for safety net services.

Additionally, a Certificate of Rehabilitation can help potential employers, licensing agencies, or even landlords assess the suitability, safety, and welfare of an applicant or renter. These certificates “can offer a presumption of rehabilitation … or at minimum an individual’s commitment to rehabilitation,” helping eliminate personal discrimination and providing additional evidence of rehabilitation and desire to reintegrate into the community.

So far, six states: Arizona, California, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, and New York use some form of these certificates, and Washington State is one of the latest states to propose adoption of a similar system.

In Washington, a Certificate of Restoration would give individuals with a conviction record the ability to obtain an occupational license. A person with a conviction record who meets certain qualifications can apply for a Certificate of Restoration. If their application is approved, they cannot have their application for an occupational license denied based on conviction record alone, provided they are otherwise qualified.

Washington’s proposed law is unique in that it prohibits the denial of occupational licenses based solely on a conviction record, but still allows employers and housing providers the discretion to assess individuals for hire or rent and select the individual of their choice.

While Certificates of Restoration alone will not ensure that all people with conviction records are able to find jobs and make ends meet, these certificates are one more tool to help people with conviction records find good-paying employment. A variety of tools are needed to help ensure that a conviction record is not a sentence to a lifetime of poverty.

LeeAnn Hall’s Statement on CFPB Actions Against Citibank

For Immediate Release
Feb. 23, 2016
Contact: Kathy Mulady,
Communications Director

Statement from LeeAnn Hall on CFPB actions against Citibank

The Alliance for a Just Society released the following statement from executive director LeeAnn Hall following today’s announcement by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) outlining enforcement actions against Citibank for illegal debt sales and debt collection practices:

“We’re encouraged to see the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau take enforcement action to hold Citibank accountable for these illegal activities,” said LeeAnn Hall, Executive director for the Alliance for a Just Society.

“The fact that Citibank was involved in these types of activities, which included falsely inflating interest rates when it sold credit card debt to debt buyers and employing law firms that altered affidavits in debt collection lawsuits, is unfortunately not surprising. In fact, Citibank ranked fourth among all companies for the most debt collection-related complaints in a two-year sample of complaints filed with the CFPB, and received the most complaints of any major bank.

“Our analysis makes it clear that debt collectors routinely engage in unfair, deceptive and abusive practices to maximize their profits.

“Citibank’s activities underscore why we need the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to move forward with writing new, strong rules that put a stop to abusive debt collection practices. And, the fact that Citibank is an original creditor, not a third-party collector or debt buyer itself, highlights why the CFPB should not limit new rules to third-party collectors, but should also write rules that prohibit deceptive and abusive collection activities by original creditors.

“We need the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to stand up for consumers and write strong rules that end these abusive practices.”

The Alliance released a report last month, Unfair, Deceptive & Abusive: Debt Collectors Profit from Abusive Tactics, that analyzed a two-year sample of 75,000 consumer complaints filed with the CFPB about debt collection practices. Citibank was cited in 1,553 complaints, placing it fourth highest on the list of entities with the most complaints and first among original creditors.

#  #  #

Jobs After Jail: Ending the Prison to Poverty Pipeline

For Immediate Release

Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016
Contact: Kathy Mulady
Communications director
(206) 992-8787

Jobs After Jail: Ending the Prison to Poverty Pipeline

State regulations bar formerly incarcerated workers from good jobs and a chance at stability

Each year an average of 630,000 people are released from state and federal prisons – for many, their prison record will be a life sentence of poverty and low wages.

In addition to facing “the box” on job applications that asks about being convicted of a crime, they also face a raft of state restrictions banning them from certain occupations. Every state in the country bans formerly incarcerated people from specific jobs. Some states bar them from hundreds of jobs, often good-paying jobs.

Today, the Alliance for a Just Society is releasing Jobs After Jail: Ending the Prison to Poverty Pipeline. The report analyzes the impact of policies that limit employment opportunities for people who have served jail or prison sentences.

The findings underscore the urgency to “ban the box” in every state and at the federal level. However, the Jobs After Jail research also clearly shows the critical need to change the thousands of laws nationwide that restrict job opportunities, and keep families and communities struggling.

A wide variety of jobs are barred, but depending on the state, they can include such work as a veterinarian, mortgage broker, or optometrist

About 70 million people in the U.S have a felony or serious misdemeanor arrest or conviction that could impact their ability to find a job, locking a big part of our country out of stable, good-paying employment.

“People leave jail or prison with debt from their incarceration, then face dramatic hurdles finding work that pays,” said Jill Reese, associate director of the Alliance for a Just Society.

“A history of racism in the United States means that people of color are more likely to be poorer than their white counterparts. They are also more likely to be incarcerated and to face harsher sentences. The impact on communities of color is devastating when so many people are cut off from good jobs after their release,” said Reese.

Jobs After Jail includes first-person stories from formerly incarcerated people about the hurdles of finding a job, getting to work with restrictions on driving, checking “the box” on a college application, and juggling two or three low wage jobs to make ends meet.

According to Jobs After Jail, nationwide there are more than 6,000 mandatory employment restrictions facing people who have served their sentence.

“Our research shows that every state has jobs that formerly incarcerated people are banned from holding,” said Allyson Fredericksen, the Alliance’s policy analyst and author of the report. “Some states have more than 200 restricted jobs – and Louisiana has 389 restrictions. The result is a vast number of people who are sentenced to poverty.”

Recommendations from the report include:

  • Eliminate lifetime legislative bans to employment
  • Ban the box – the question about convictions on job applications.
  • Reform policies on court fines and fees and incarceration fees that leave people deep in debt after they are released.
  • Invest in businesses that pay high wages and employ formerly incarcerated people.

Jobs After Jail: Ending the Prison to Poverty Pipeline is part of the Job Gap Economic Prosperity series on jobs and wages produced by the Alliance since 1999.

Alliance for a Just Society is a national organization that focuses on social, economic and racial justice issues.

More information is available at:

Restrictions by State (chart)

Quick Fact Sheet

Supreme Obstruction: Senate Leaders Want a Constitutional Shutdown

This article by LeeAnn Hall and Fred Azcarate was originally published in The Hill.

Which of our elected officials truly believe in constitutional government – and which of them don’t? The death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is putting senators to the test on this question – and the right wing is failing that test at a time when there’s a growing call for a more inclusive, more responsive democracy in our country.

The United States Constitution, the basis of our government, lays out a clear process for filling a vacancy such as that created by Scalia’s death: the president nominates a candidate and the Senate advises.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said that the Senate should obstruct the appointment of a ninth justice to the Court, and his colleagues on the right followed suit.
What they’re proposing is nothing short of another government shutdown—this time of constitutional proportions.

It’s a point made by some of their Senate colleagues. “When the hard right doesn’t get its way,” Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Tuesday, “their immediate reaction is to shut [government] down.”

We’ve seen the consequences of government shutdowns when right-wing members of Congress decide they do not want to do the job of governing: furloughed employees, shuttered public buildings and parks, delayed veterans’ death benefits, Main Street businesses cut off from loans, and billions of dollars lost to the economy.

Shutdowns harm real people because government is an important force in our lives and our communities. But none of that matters to the right-wing obstructionists in Congress.

Yet, while Schumer’s statement certainly reflects current dynamics in Congress, his statement doesn’t go far enough.

Obstructionism is more than a tactic the right wing uses when it doesn’t get its way. Obstructionism also expresses the right’s ideology about the role of government in our lives.

From their perspective, government should serve individual and corporate property rights and national defense. They call this “small government,” but it’s not about size. It’s about who government works for and whose interests it serves.

The fight over the Supreme Court comes when an increasing share of the public is demanding a government that responds to the needs of all of us – not just a few. Yet the right wing wants a more exclusive government, as best exemplified by their recent attacks on voting rights – the most virulent attacks since Jim Crow.

Many cases now pending before the Supreme Court – cases the right-wing wants to shut down – have a bearing on our creation of that more inclusive, more responsive democracy so many are clamoring for. Without nine members, it cannot issue definitive rulings.

Employees who want dignity in their workplaces, including the right to unionize and the right to overtime pay, will have to wait until 2017 for a decision on those rights.

Women will have wait for an answer on their right to abortion and contraception. People with cases in the criminal justice system will have to wait for an answer on their right to a jury free of racial bias.

Immigrant parents will have to wait for an answer on their right to remain with their children, and to live at peace in their communities.

With more than 300 days left in President Obama’s term, there’s plenty of time for Senate hearings. Justice Scalia himself was confirmed after 85 days. What’s unprecedented is not the timeframe for review but the fact that the right wing still has not adjusted to the reality of a black president.

They’d do best to adapt. Our country is looking more and more like the president. It’s also looking more like those calling for their rightful place in our democracy: women, people of color and immigrants. Failure to recognize these voices will hurt at the ballot box.

The Constitution is for the entire country, as should be remembered by senators who keep copies of it in their pockets. Shutting down the Constitution means shutting down our democracy, and we the people won’t stand for it.

Hall is the executive director of Alliance for a Just Society, a national research, policy, and organizing network working for economic, racial, and social justice. Azcarate has been the executive director of USAction for the past 2 and 1/2 years. For 30 years, he has been an organizer, trainer and social movement leader with grassroots, community and labor organizations.


Vermont Main Street Alliance Members Play Key Role in Paid Sick Days Senate Approval

Matt Birong, owner of 3 Squares Cafe in Vergennes

Matt Birong, owner of 3 Squares Cafe in Vergennes

The member businesses of the Main Street Alliance of Vermont achieved a tremendous victory this month that was over ten years in the making. The Vermont State Senate approved the Healthy Workplaces bill (H.187) with a strong bi-partisan vote of 21-8.

The approval came after several amendments were made by the Senate Committee on Economic Development that had jurisdiction of the bill and five successful floor amendments that received signals of support from the Economic Development Committee.

Key changes in the paid sick days legislation

included a one-year grace period for new businesses, an exclusion for part-time workers that work fewer than 18 hours per week, and one year delayed implementation for companies that employ five or fewer employees working 30 hours or more per week. The bill also excludes any persons under the age of 18.

Other floor amendments not supported by the committee met defeat, including an attempt to exempt businesses with five and fewer employees that failed by a single vote – providing universal adoption of the law to businesses of all sizes. Due to a narrow vote on this amendment the Senate reconvened to address this item specifically and for the second time in one week they voted to defeat the amendment.

The Main Street Alliance of Vermont members were vocal in opposition to any modification that would carve-out and exempt businesses for any purpose. If the exemption had passed, roughly 25,000 workers would not have the same protections as the rest of Vermont workers.

“We appreciate all the work that the Senate did on this bill – and feel that a reasonable compromise has been struck,” says Lindsay DesLauriers, state director of the Main Street Alliance of Vermont. “We were particularly pleased that the Senate did not adopt an exclusion by business size as we hear again and again from business owners around the state that a standard of earned leave should apply to all businesses equally.

“Paid leave should be a workplace standard like the minimum wage and this bill accomplishes that,” she said.

“This bill represents years of work and compromise to achieve a balanced bill. I’m pleased with the result and proud of the work that so many business owners on our coalitions did to ensure such a positive outcome,” said Stephanie Hainley, Main Street Alliance of Vermont board chair and COO at White + Burke Real Estate Investment Advisors.

“I think this bill is one of the best examples I’ve seen of really working hard to figure out how to find the right balance between employers and employees,” says Matt Birong, owner of 3 Squares Café in Vergennes. “I applaud all the work that has gone into this.”

Cracking Down on Abusive Debt Collectors

This article first appeared in OtherWords

Have you ever picked up your phone to find an aggressive voice on the other end demanding payments on a debt you know nothing about? You’re far from alone.

Once you’re in the sights of a debt collector, the impact on your life can be devastating: Your wages can be garnished and your credit ruined. You might lose your driver’s license, or even your job.

And it could happen over a debt you don’t even owe.

In a recent analysis of 75,000 complaints about debt collection practices submitted to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — just a sample of the total number — this was the most common complaint by far. Over 40 percent of people being harassed by collectors said they didn’t owe the debt in the first place.

Other complaints charged that the collectors made false statements or threats to coerce people to pay.

The government created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — or CFPB ­— to address abusive financial practices after the 2008 financial crash. This year, the bureau is considering strengthening rules to protect consumers from deceptive and aggressive collection practices.

Abusive collection tactics impact people with all kinds of debt — including credit card debt, medical debt, payday loans, student loans, mortgages, and automobile loans. Collectors often strike when people are most vulnerable, such as when they’re recovering from illness or desperately seeking work. They aggressively target the poor, immigrants, and people of color.

About 77 million people — or 35 percent of adults in the United States with a credit file — have a report of debt in collections. That alone makes a compelling case for the bureau to crack down on abusive tactics.

When my organization, the Alliance for a Just Society, analyzed the complaints for ournew reportUnfair, Deceptive, & Abusive: Debt Collectors Profit from Aggressive Tactics — we tallied the complaints in the database and built a list of the 15 companies with the most complaints.

The list is topped by heavy-hitting debt buyers like Encore Capital Group and PRA Group, whose business models hinge on buying portfolios of consumer debts for pennies on the dollar and then wringing payments out of alleged debtors. Both of these companies more than doubled their profits from 2010 to 2014.

Major student loan servicer Navient (formerly Sallie Mae) also makes the top 15 list for complaints about its debt collection tactics.

But it’s particularly worth noting that six out of the top 15 offenders on this list are original creditors, not third-party collectors. They include Citibank, JPMorgan Chase, Capital One, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and Synchrony Financial (the largest issuer of private label credit cards).

This is important, because the primary protection most consumers have against unfair collection tactics — the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act — applies only to third parties, not original creditors. This is a troubling double standard.

The new rules must also to apply to the original creditors — including payday lenders, credit card companies, and big banks — along with third-party collectors and debt buyers.

The rules should limit phone calls to prevent harassment and require collectors to have complete documentation before attempting to collect. The rules should prohibit selling, purchasing, and attempting to collect old, paid, or expired “zombie” debt.

Finally, the bureau should toughen the penalties for collectors breaking the rules.

Living with debt isn’t a personal failing — it’s a national crisis. The bureau needs to stand up for everyday people and put a stop to abusive collection tactics.

LeeAnn Hall is the executive director of Alliance for a Just Society, a national research, policy, and organizing network working for economic, racial, and social justice.
Distributed by