Connecticut will be safer, stronger, and fairer if people who are returning home after incarceration have the resources they need to support themselves and their families. Yet people living with a criminal record in Connecticut face more than 600 legal and policy barriers to being full members of society.
Smart Justice is committed to changing that by prohibiting discrimination against people on the basis of their criminal record. This year, as step one toward that goal, Smart Justice advocated for House Bill 6921, a bill to prohibit discrimination on the basis of a person’s criminal record in things like housing, employment, insurance, education, and public services and accommodations.
The bill, introduced by Representative Robyn Porter, was the first of its kind in the country.
“All people in the U.S. pay the human and financial prices of discrimination against people living with a criminal record, and we cannot afford the cost,” said ACLU of Connecticut Smart Justice field organizer Anderson Curtis, who testified in support of the bill during its public hearing at legislature.
So many Smart Justice supporters turned out for the bill’s public hearing in February, that the legislative committee’s chairs had to move the hearing to a larger room. A labor union, legislators, a Hartford city councilmember, clergy, Smart Justice leaders, and fellow criminal justice reform advocates joined Smart Justice in supporting the bill.
Weeks later, Connecticut’s legislature – prompted by advocacy from Smart Justice leaders -- made history by becoming the first to pass this kind of anti-discrimination bill out of a legislative committee. In order to be able to come back next year with an even stronger bill, however, the bill was amended on the floor of the House of Representatives to instead create the Council on the Collateral Consequences of a Criminal Record. That amended bill passed the House 108 – 37 and, in the literal last minute of the legislative session, unanimously passed through the Senate. At press time, it awaits action from Governor Lamont.
“The Council on the Collateral Consequences of a Criminal Record will be a pipeline for ideas for Connecticut to make thoughtful, strategic decisions about how to end discrimination against people on the basis of their criminal record,” said Curtis. “Smart Justice looks forward to working with the Council on the Collateral Consequences of a Criminal Record to continue the effort to ensure Connecticut invests in people, not incarceration.”
The Council will be tasked with studying discrimination faced by people who are living with a criminal record in Connecticut, including in areas like housing, employment, public education, public accommodations, insurance, credit, public programs and services, and economic development programs. Following at least three meetings in communities across the state, the Council will make recommendations to the legislature about ways to expand Connecticut’s anti-discrimination laws to prohibit discrimination based on a person’s record of arrest or conviction.
Critically, the Council will also be the first mandated by state law to include a person who has been directly impacted by the justice system themselves.
Smart Justice will be at the Council’s meetings this summer and fall to speak about (and listen to testimony about) barriers people face when reentering our state’s communities – and ways Connecticut can dismantle them. Next year, Smart Justice will again be at the Capitol to push for stronger anti-discrimination legislation, and we will continue this fight to ensure that real reentry is possible for everyone coming home after arrest or incarceration.
This piece is part of a series of stories from the 2019 Civil Liberties Update, the ACLU of Connecticut's newsletter. You can read the full newsletter here.