To promote and guarantee the public’s safety, the U.S. government and the 50 states should adopt policies and practices that facilitate the successful reintegration into society of people with criminal records. We must make sure that they have a second chance to establish themselves in law-abiding lives with the privileges and responsibilities of citizenship. Each person should be judged on his or her merits and not on stereotypes, prejudice, or stigma. People must be encouraged in both symbolic and practical ways to become valuable assets to the community. This means removing unreasonable barriers and roadblocks, making it possible for millions of Americans with criminal records to rejoin the community, support themselves and their families, pay their taxes and contribute to the public good.

There is evidence that many key policymakers and opinion leaders are rethinking the wisdom of roadblocks to the reentry of people with criminal records. Congress is being encouraged to eliminate or limit the bans it imposed in the 1990’s on people convicted of drug offenses to obtain food stamps, student loans, and public assistance. Several states have passed legislation to assist qualified individuals to gain employment without prejudice because of arrest or conviction records unrelated to their ability to perform the jobs they are seeking.

LAC applauds these positive trends and offers the following general principles and recommended legislative changes to assist those who are advocating for reform.

Both the state and federal governments should enact legislation that protects public safety by making sure that people with past criminal records are able to re-integrate successfully. The best way to achieve this goal is to adhere to the following four principles:

1. Maximizing the chance that people with criminal records can successfully assume the responsibilities of independent, law-abiding citizens is a critical component of guaranteeing and reinforcing the community’s legitimate interest in public safety.

2. An arrest alone should never bar access to rights, necessities, and public benefits. Doing so denies the presumption of innocence – the core value of our legal system – to millions of Americans. Employers, housing authorities, and other decision-makers should not be permitted to consider arrest records.

3. A conviction should never bar access to a citizen’s right to vote or to basic necessities such as food, clothing, housing, and education.

4. Eligibility for employment, housing, adoptive and foster parenting, or a driver’s license should be based on the community’s legitimate interest in public safety and the particulars of an individual’s history and circumstances. Blanket bans of entire categories of people, such as everyone convicted of a felony, are neither wise nor fair; they do not take into account such important factors as the nature or circumstances of the conviction and what the person has done since the commission of the offense, including receiving an education, acquiring skills, completing community service, maintaining an employment history, or earning awards or other types of recognition.

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