People living with a record of arrest or conviction are people. And like every person, when they apply for a job, they should be evaluated based on their skills and qualifications, as individual people -- not discriminated against because of stereotypes and assumptions based on their record. This year, H.B. 6474, An Act Concerning Collateral Employment Consequences of a Criminal Record, is a bill that would take critical steps toward stopping employment discrimination against people living with a record. It makes our state stronger by requiring employers evaluate job applicants as individuals. In Connecticut, it’s already against the law for the State, when it does its own hiring, to deny someone a job just because of their criminal history. Instead, the state-employer has to look at the whole person. H.B. 6474 would extend this to other employers.
Smart Justice leader Brian Sullivan and ACLU of Connecticut interim senior field organizer and policy advocate, testified today to tell the Labor and Public Employees Committee to pass H.B. 6474. Here is what they told the committee:
Smart Justice leader Brian K. Sullivan:
"My name is Brian K. Sullivan and I am a leader with the ACLU Smart Justice campaign of Connecticut.
I am a father of four, also someone who has spent more then 20 years in Prison. To be completely forthcoming, when I was originally sentenced in 1997, I didn’t have a lot of hope that I would ever come home. Shortly after being sentenced, I became determined to do whatever it took to change the person I was into someone who I could look in the mirror and be proud of. I availed myself of every single program the Department of Correction offered. If it was there, I became immersed in the curriculum. I held employment while incarcerated for 20 of the 22 years working inside of some of the most sensitive parts of the prison. I was one of the first hospice volunteers in the state and sat with 20 men whose last breath was in a cell -- most of whom were not serving life sentences but nonethe less died in prison. That experience strengthened my resolve that, if the opportunity ever presented itself to have a chance at life outside of prison, I would continue to apply the same value and hard work I did while in prison.
I developed a program inside called CHAMPS, which stands for Creating Healthy Attitudes in Men from Prison to Society. CHAMPS is designed to rebuild a foundation dealing with the issues that plague men from their youth and help us understand the why behind our poor choices and bad decisions. Also, to connect individuals directly with the resources available to help reduce the recidivism rate in our state. I am also a fulltime student at Asnuntuck Community College, where I am chasing a degree in human services. I recently graduated the ENET Program at Goodwin College where I am now a mentor helping the next class of students navigate the courses.
In 2019, after 20 years of extremely hard introspection and soul searching, after nine denials, I was blessed with a sentence modification.
"The reality is everyday I face discrimination based on my record."
With all I have done and am doing, the reality is everyday I face discrimination based on my record. My conviction although 23 years old prohibits me from securing housing and gaining meaningful employment, something that utilizes the skills I developed to help others. Technically I am homeless right now because every time I apply for an apartment the first thing they say is, "you cannot have a criminal record." I know so many people that have completed their sentences, paid their debt to society and are trying to build their lives but struggle with the barriers that exist due to their record.
Being able to gain meaningful employment and secure housing is all we ask after completing our sentence. House Bill 6474 “An Act Concerning Collateral Employment Consequences of a Criminal Record,” is about giving people a real and fair chance, utilizing their skills, their experience and their talents which in turn is not just good for them but society as a whole. I personally know and work with some men and woman who like those involved with smart justice are motivated and determined to succeed and contribute to their families and their communities and would be a valued asset to any employer if only given the chance. Since I have been home I have done everything from digging ditches to collecting cans for a pay that barely allows me to pay my bills, and although I am extremely thankful, I would one day like to do something that encompasses the skill set I have.
HB 6474 would allow me and others to finally be able to move up and on with our lives."
ACLU of Connecticut interim senior field organizer and policy advocate Anderson Curtis:
"Senator Kushner, Representative Porter, Ranking Members Sampson and Arora, and distinguished members of the Labor and Public Employees Committee:
My name is Anderson Curtis, and I am the interim senior organizer and policy advocate for the ACLU-CT. I am here to testify in support of House Bill 6474.
People involved in our criminal justice system who finish their sentences have paid their debt to society. The ACLU-CT believes in a society where all people, including those who are justice impacted, have equal opportunity to live their lives in Connecticut’s communities without barriers to building successful and fulfilling lives.
Of the over 550 barriers to full civic participation that are written into our state’s law, the large majority are related to employment. These collateral employment consequences can create a daily nightmare for people with records just trying to find work. These barriers are why the 2018 unemployment rate among formerly incarcerated people was more than 6.5 times the Connecticut overall unemployment rate. The employment barriers faced by people with criminal records have only worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic. Placement agencies for people with records report that, compared to 2019, only half as many job seekers with records were able to find placements. Experts say that people with criminal records will likely be the last to see their unemployment rates lower after the pandemic.
These harmful employment effects are not distributed equally across society. Racism in Connecticut’s criminal justice system is replicated when people return home from incarceration.
When people with records cannot find work, it hurts more than just those individuals. More than half of incarcerated people in Connecticut are parents – meaning these barriers to reentry also harm Connecticut children.
These barriers are nonsensical, since we all benefit from robust employment opportunities for people with records. Employers might benefit the most, in fact. One of the nation’s largest employers, the United States military, has found that enlistees with felony records are more likely to be promoted to sergeant than those with no conviction history, even controlling for other factors. Another survey found that 82% of managers believe that workers with criminal records are equally high or higher quality hires than people without criminal records.
Despite efforts by this Committee and other elected officials, Connecticut has failed to eliminate employment barriers altogether. This bill would help. By extending the existing statute that requires the state to consider people, not their records, when it is making hiring decisions. Under Section 46a-80, the state may only deny employment because of a person’s record if an individualized assessment is conducted.
House Bill 6474 extends this requirement to all employers, not just the state. Under this bill, employers couldn’t deny employment based on a person’s record unless they conducted a straightforward individualized assessment that showed that (1) the person’s record was closely related to the job, (2) insufficient time had passed since the conviction and (3) there wasn’t evidence that the person had been rehabilitated. Rep. Rutigliano asked earlier if people on probation or parole would be subject to this bill, and the answer is yes. Their supervision status could be considered under the second and third parts of the test.
House Bill 6474 is not just the right thing to do – it’s also supported by a large majority of Connecticut voters.
Let’s work to build stronger individuals and stronger communities by eliminating barriers to employment for people living with a criminal record. The ACLU-CT strongly urges you to pass House Bill 6474."