Published 4:21 pm, Friday, January 27, 2017
People with a criminal background often find it difficult to get a job, and it’s one of the leading causes of recidivism, experts say.
But one barrier to employment for those with conviction or arrest records was lifted this month when Connecticut became the ninth state in the country to ban employers from making any inquiry about an applicant’s prior arrests, criminal charges, or convictions on an employment application.
That law, which took effect on Jan. 1 – excludes businesses and organizations such as schools that are required by state or federal law to perform a background check on all employees. And employers can still ask prospective employees about their criminal background during the interview process.
“It’s a good step in the right direction, because at least it allows you to get your foot in the door,” said Beatrice Codianni, editor of the New Haven-based Re-entry Central website, which helps inmates transition to life outside prison.
Codianni, herself a convicted felon who spent 15 years behind bars in the Federal Corrections Institute in Danbury because of her involvement with the Latin Kings gang, said it took her more than a year to find a job after her release.
“Most people, when they get out of prison, have these hopes and dreams about living a straight and narrow life,” she said. “But because of the stigma attached, it’s very difficult to actually find employment. It doesn’t make sense to me, because most people who are given a second chance work even harder in an attempt to prove themselves.”
Tom Leaf, a defense lawyer in Danbury, said unemployment has been directly tied to recidivism rates among convicted felons.
“It’s really in everyone’s best interest to have these people working again,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of people go through the system, that if given a second chance, would have a lot to offer. I’m glad the state has made this move in the right direction. This doesn’t provide any special treatment for convicted felons, but for a lot of people it will result in them not being dismissed out of hand.”
Codianni said that while the move is a good step, she believes more still needs to be done in the state, including repeal of laws that prevent convicted felons from holding a professional license in the state for everything including plumbers and electricians to hair dressers.
“Of course you don’t want a pedophile working in a day care, but what if a convicted felon wants to be a hair dresser?” she said. “There are still so many restrictions today to employment.”
Former convicts who can’t find work and are desperate to support their families may fall back into criminal activity to help make ends meet, Codianni said.
“They see these people they used to know who say, ‘I can help you make a few bucks,’ and before you know it they are back in the game they were trying to avoid,” she said. “These are people who still need to a pay for a place to live and have families they need to support. People getting out of prison who want to lead a straight live have a very difficult time.”