Last week, Connecticut's Labor and Public Employees Committee held a public hearing on H.B. 5248, a bill to start eliminating barriers to employment for people living with a record, by requiring employers to base hiring decisions on people as individuals, not based on blanket bans. Manuel Sandoval, an ACLU of Connecticut Smart Justice leader, provided the following testimony:
My name is Manuel Sandoval. I’m a resident of New Britain, CT. I’m a Smart Justice Leader and I work as a Clinician for a community mental health organization. I am a parent, a husband, a homeowner, and I am passionate about helping people.
I'm here to testify in support of House Bill 5248, An Act Concerning the Collateral Consequences of a Criminal Conviction on Occupation Licensure because for me the collateral consequences of a criminal conviction on occupational licensing have been strenuous, demoralizing and at times outright cruel.
Over the past ten years I’ve been diligent to better myself to be a model citizen. At times, I’ve asked, why if society chooses to deny my progress is real? The collateral consequences continue to make it difficult for us to thrive with all the roadblocks that are discussed in this bill here today. Why? We can barely survive as it is. But who cares, right? We are just that discarded population that society can point its fingers at and say Yes, those are the bad one, the ones who can’t get it together. Of course, part of the reason why we can’t get it together is because society won’t let us get it together.
I continue daily to better myself. I became a peer support specialist (PSS), in an attempt to obtain a position with the state. I was offered the position, only to have it reneged upon learning I had a criminal conviction. That was devastating to me. Luckily, months later, I was blessed with an employment within a nonprofit organization. Thank you, COMPASS PeaceBuilders.
However, after this was not enough, I decided to better myself by getting an education. I received my bachelor's degree in human services form Springfield College, graduating summa cum laude and becoming the class speaker. And I continued my education even further, by earning my master’s degree in social work from the University of Saint Joseph.
However, I find it extremely interesting and detrimental that I have faced nothing but uphill battles due to my convictions. Our legal systems say if you commit a crime, you must do the time. However, we know that is far from the truth. Our legal system is one of oppression. Once you have completed your sentence you are free to go. The problem is, go where? If you lived in public housing that is no longer an option. Need employment? Most jobs discriminate against previously incarcerated people. If you’re lucky to find a job, the pay is usually poor. If you happen to be one of the smart ones and decides that education is essential, you bind yourself up in student debt only to receive an education that will provide you with the bare minimum because the state of Connecticut will still deny your licensure. Why does a person’s criminal conviction, after they have served their time, make a person ineligible for licensure so they can work and support themselves? Have they not earned it through dedication, hard work, sweat, and tears?
The state should not deny the licensure of any person who has completed the educational requirements, has the experience and skills to do the job. The state should not deny me my social work license after all the work I’ve done. I am a positive and productive member of my community. I’ve lost over $30k during the two years I’ve been battling the Department of Public Health in which I requested time and again to be provided with an opportunity just to sit for the exam! I was denied multiple times until they finally let me sit, and of course I passed. However, I’m currently on probation with DPH and must provide documentation quarterly to be licensed. The problem with this convoluted system is that there appears to be no room for forgiveness. The forgiveness that everyone seeks, however, all are quick to deny.
Maya Angelou once said, “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.” Committee members, I did then as I knew then, and now that I know better, I do better. I say now to you, please do better. We shouldn’t have to jump through to hoops to be licensed when we have done the work.
Thank you for your time and listening to my testimony.