All people, including those who have been through the criminal legal system, should have the right to safe and stable housing.

People who are returning to the world after incarceration have earned the right to be part of society, and they should have a fair chance at supporting themselves and their families. Yet legal barriers create a lifetime of punishment for people reentering society, including by making it difficult to find housing. Today, Smart Justice leader Will testified in support of a bill that would begin to stop housing discrimination against people living with a record -- because someone's record alone cannot indicate whether they will be a good neighbor. Here is Will's testimony:

Hello Representative Williams, Senator Lopes, ranking members Representative Polleta, Senator Cicarella and distinguished members of the Housing Committee. My name is Will and I am a Leader with the ACLU of Connecticut’s Smart Justice campaign. I am here today to testify in support of HB 5208, “An Act Concerning Housing Opportunities for Justice-Impacted Persons.”

All people in Connecticut, including people who have been through the criminal legal system, should have the right to safe and stable housing.

In 2011 I was released by the Department of Corrections into homelessness. I was supposed to be released in Bridgeport, where I had some resources waiting for me, but instead I was dropped off in New Haven and had to live in a shelter. I hope that this committee will agree that not only is housing discrimination very real for justice-impacted people, but that people who are coming home need even more assistance finding housing even sooner.

In 2019, the General Assembly created the Council on the Collateral Consequences of a Criminal Record. The Council found that people who are living with a record face over 500 collateral consequences in Connecticut that block them from being able to lead successful lives, and many of those are related to housing – put simply, people who are trying to find a place to live, to be able to have a roof over their head for themselves and their family, are far too often shut out and discriminated against. But renting to people with a record is not the risk some people would have you believe. Actually, research indicated that most criminal offenses have little to no impact on housing outcomes. Yet during the Council’s work, when it held two forums in a men and women’s prison to listen to the experiences of people who were currently incarcerated, nearly all of their stories involved being rejected from employment and apartments due to a person’s record.

I want to note that it has been people who have been directly impacted by Connecticut’s criminal legal system, people who have been struggling to move forward and rebuild their lives while facing daily discrimination over sentences that in in the past has been completed, who have been present at every step of the way in the past few years to change the state’s criminal legal system. We have been at every meeting, every public hearing, at every important vote and even in the Capitol parking lot through every kind of weather during last year’s session. I hope that legislators will listen to the experiences and expertise of people who have been directly impacted and discriminated against in so many areas of their lives.

During COVID many legislators across both parties talked about the economy and how job loss affected Connecticut residents. Yet when people with a criminal record talked about how not having a job affected them it seemed like an upward battle. We were talking about this long before the pandemic began. Now that rent prices are skyrocketing, I hear the same conversations being echoed. So here we are, again, voicing how housing is important to people with a record. This is not new, this is what people have been dealing with for a long, long time.

Prohibiting housing discrimination against people with a criminal record would go a long way towards helping them find safe and secure housing and build stability in their lives.

Thank you for listening to my testimony today.