People in Connecticut who are returning home after incarceration face more than 500 legal and policy barriers to supporting themselves and their families. In housing, employment, education, public accommodations and services, financial products, and more, people living with a record of arrest or conviction are often left locked out of society for life. The Connecticut General Assembly is considering a bill, H.B. 5389, An Act Concerning Collateral Consequences of a Criminal Record, that would prevent this discrimination by giving people a way to seek justice if they are discriminated against because of their record.

During a public hearing today, Smart Justice, represented by Timothy Coble, Will Roberts, Shelby Henderson, Anderson Curtis, and Gus Marks-Hamilton, testified about the need for Connecticut to pass this bill to prevent discrimination against people solely based on their records of arrest or conviction.

The following are Timothy, Will, Shelby, Gus, and Anderson’s remarks, as written.

Timothy Coble:

Good morning. My name is Timothy Coble, and I’m a Smart Justice leader with the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut (ACLU-CT). Thank you for the opportunity to voice my support for HB 5389, An Act Concerning Collateral Consequences of a Criminal Record. I have an absolute pardon. And even though I’ve done everything that I had to do to redirect my life, I still face discrimination.

Most recently, I was reminded again of how it feels to be discriminated against. While filling out a graduate school application, before receiving my pardon, the application asked whether or not I had a criminal record. This creates an additional area of uncertainty, a further barrier, and relegates me to being three fifths of a man. Does this mean I will be receiving three fifths of an education? Will this answer provided on the application follow me for my graduate school career? Why do I have to worry about the implications of this when I’ve received a pardon, and merely wish to improve my life by receiving a college education?

Before that, being an offered a job contingent on a background check is something I’ve also experienced and that’s discrimination. At that time, I presented the employer with my certificate of employability and the employer did not recognize the certificate of employability. Without this bill, employers will continue to get away with this. And individuals will continue to be legally discriminated against.

When looking for apartments, after being accepted contingent on the background check, I was denied. I kept thinking to myself, once I get an apartment, everything will be better. But that day never came. This discrimination was caused solely as a result of my criminal background. The opportunity for housing and employment allows you to change your people, places, and things, but there was no opportunity for me, and for so many.

You may think that I have my life together. Even though I may have a pardon, I still face the hurdles created by the discrimination allowed through background checks. There are many times I have to sit down and catch my breath, because the adversity is exhausting. I’d be remiss if I didn’t reach back and share my story as a tool in bringing down these entrenched systems that create barriers along the path to successful reentry. Join me in pushing our legislators to pass this anti-discrimination bill. 

Will Roberts

My name is Will Roberts, and I am a Smart Justice leader with the ACLU of Connecticut, and I currently reside in the Hartford area. I am here speaking as myself, and also a voice of my community. One of the biggest and most consistent problems in Connecticut is discrimination against state residents with a criminal record.

Connecticut, although claiming to be a progressive champion of criminal justice reform on the surface, still falls far behind. Meanwhile, a vast proportion of its residents still continue to struggle due to their record.

Many past attempts to provide solutions end up having no effect on ending discriminatory practices, other than to please those not affected. We have watched those farthest from the problem decide what is best for us – with little to no results.

My comfort is the Hartford community. Leaving my comfort zone to stand here and talk about discrimination based on a criminal history isn’t an option for me. It is a must. It is the right thing to do. It has to be done. The fact that any of us, as not just people living with a criminal history, but as human beings, still to this day have to fight for jobs, housing and resources that are viewed as basic rights – but people with criminal records are excluded – is a shame and a black mark on Connecticut.

Everyone in Connecticut has an opportunity at this very moment to end this practice of discrimination based on a person’s criminal record, which is still connected to Jim Crow laws and other discriminatory legacies. This cannot come fast enough for people that have been working on this issue for decades as well as those who are living with these barriers and stigmas at this very moment.

Connecticut legislators have a responsibility to protect and include people directly impacted by the criminal legal system when creating a bill for every person who lives in Connecticut. I have lived in this state for my entire life. The time to end this is now.

Shelby Henderson

My name is Shelby Henderson; I am a criminal justice graduate; a student at John Jay College; an aspiring attorney and also a formerly incarcerated woman who lives with the scarlet curse of having a criminal record.

I would first like to thank you for recognizing the importance of protecting the rights of persons with a criminal record. I fully support HB 5389, An Act Concerning Collateral Consequences of a Criminal Record, and request for the passage of this bill with no carve outs.

Across the state there are thousands of people like myself who face an unconscionable number of barriers when trying to find housing, gain employment, vote, and obtain life insurance. These are only just a few of the barriers that people face when they have a criminal record. In Connecticut there are nearly six hundred barriers for a person with a criminal record.

For example, my life has been drastically impacted by my criminal record. Although it is difficult to measure where I would be had things been different, without question I can certainly account for multiple instances where the quality of my life has been limited by my criminal record. As a single young female with a criminal record, the only place where I could find to live was a rented room in a building full of strangers in Hartford where did I not feel safe or secure.

After graduating college, my criminal record prevented me from finding gainful employment. With 40,000 dollars of student loan debt, I was rejected from countless professional jobs. There was a time when my criminal record even prevented from working in a warehouse making minimum wage.

Equally, it is important to note that the implications of a criminal record have had a drastic impact on African Americans. Similar to the Jim Crows laws of the 1960s, the legalized discrimination against persons with a criminal record has produce the same effect. Today, in Connecticut thousands of people with a criminal record are legally forced out of many labor markets, denied housing and in many ways subjected to a life of poverty — all due to a criminal record.

In closing, I strongly believe that all people — including those with a criminal record — deserve the opportunity live meaningful lives. People who have been convicted of a crime have paid their debt to society and deserve the right to live free of discrimination.

Anderson Curtis

My name is Anderson Curtis, and I am a field organizer for the ACLU of Connecticut Smart Justice campaign. I am here to testify in support of House Bill 5389. We strongly encourage the Committee to support this bill.

Smart Justice is led by people who are living with the collateral consequences of a criminal record daily. The conversation about this bill is a conversation about Smart Justice leaders’ lives, and our families’ lives.

For some Smart Justice leaders, ending discrimination based solely on someone’s record is about being able to start their own businesses to support their children. Being able to have an apartment in their own names for the first time. Getting college degrees. This bill is about Tracie, Terri, Sean, Marquita, Gus, Tyran, Louis, Alex, Brian, Shelby, Donald, Curtis, AnnMarie, Eric, and Ciara. It’s about the one in three Americans living with a record, and the 50 percent of all Americans who have a family member who was incarcerated. 

This morning, legislators heard from Tim, a Smart Justice leader. Tim received a pardon from the state. But before that, when he was applying for graduate school, he had to check a box on his application to indicate that he had a record. Tim gives back to others at every turn. Despite his pardon, he has to live wondering if that check mark will hurt his school career.

We are sick and tired of living with the uncertainty of never knowing when our pasts will be held against us. We and our families, particularly in Black and Latinx communities, are literally less healthy and stable because of the barriers we face to reentering society. Barriers to reentry are killing us. A state study found that formerly incarcerated young people in Connecticut were eight times more likely than average to die within a year of leaving prison.

We want to be treated the same as any other employee, tenant, or student – no more, and no less. This bill asks only that gatekeepers judge us based on who we are as individuals today, not on assumptions based solely on a record from our past.

Smart Justice is not alone. 82 percent of Connecticut voters agree that everyone deserves a second chance, and a person's record of arrest or conviction alone does not tell you whether they will be a good employee, neighbor, or insurance policy holder. 57% of Connecticut voters support the legislature passing a law like House Bill 5389.  

All people in Connecticut have paid the price of mass incarceration, yet we cannot afford the cost. Smart Justice strongly urges you to pass House Bill 5389, a critical bill to create thriving families and hopeful communities.

Gus Marks-Hamilton

My name is Gus Marks-Hamilton, and I am a field organizer with the ACLU of Connecticut’s Smart Justice campaign. I am here to testify in support of HB 5389, An Act Concerning Collateral Consequences of a Criminal Record.

I am a licensed master social worker, a recovery support specialist, an alumni of our state university, a proud uncle to my two nieces and an upcoming nephew - and I am a person living with a criminal record after spending nearly eight years in our state’s prisons and jails. I describe myself this way because while I do not look at myself as “a person with a criminal record” or a “ex-offender,” and that is not the way my family and my friends view me either. That is, however, the way that the state of Connecticut, almost every employer and many landlords, view me. Even though I have completed my sentence, fulfilled every requirement that was imposed on me when I was sentenced, and have paid my debt to society, I continue to face the collateral consequences of my record.

Two months ago, in January, I accompanied the Council on the Collateral Consequences of a Criminal Record to the public forums at York Correction Institution in Niantic and to Cybulski Correctional Institution in Enfield to listen to the people incarcerated there testify about the obstacles and barriers they have faced due to their criminal record. They recounted being rejected by landlords, rebuffed by employers, denied occupation licenses and, disturbingly frequently, fired from jobs months and even years after being hired when their criminal record came to light. This discrimination – often having nothing to do with the nature of their conviction – made them unable to support themselves and their families, unable to keep their housing, and entrapped them in cycles that sent them back to prison.

Thousands of people and families in every town in Connecticut suffer the consequences of discrimination against people who are trying to reenter society after being incarcerated. Within each person’s testimony were stories of hope, determination and resiliency, but caught within complicated systems of oppression and unending punishment.

Connecticut should heed to the voices of the people who testified before the Council,  who would soon be completing the incarcerated portion of their sentences and returning to their communities – but still bearing the life sentence of a criminal record. The state should also listen to those of us who are not incarcerated, but still struggle with the collateral consequences of a record daily. This bill reflects legislative recommendations that will allow every person living with a criminal record to have an equal opportunity to build a successful and fulfilling life as a productive member of their community.

I urge this committee to pass HB 5389, a critical step toward allowing everyone in Connecticut the right to a just and equitable life.