No housing and job discrimination against New Yorkers with criminal convictions

GOV. ANDREW M. CUOMO | 9/24/2015, 2:45 p.m.
For too many formerly incarcerated men and women, their criminal past condemns them to a dismal future.
Andrew Cuomo Pat Arnow

For too many formerly incarcerated men and women, their criminal past condemns them to a dismal future. Every time they apply for a job or housing, their blemished record often overshadows their qualifications and disqualifies them from obtaining the basic resources they need to get back on their feet.

These collateral consequences have left too many on the margins of society. They are symptoms of an ailing system that places individuals at greater risk for recidivism and adds to the enormous hurdles faced by New Yorkers with criminal histories transitioning back into their communities.

In 2014, we formed the New York State Council on Community Re-Entry and Reintegration. The Council proposed a number of recommendations to help formerly incarcerated individuals overcome the obstacles faced upon reentering society. I am pleased to announce that I will take executive action to fully implement these recommendations to remove the barriers for New Yorkers with criminal convictions.

These recommendations will address key issues that will help this population achieve the financial stability and independence necessary to survive while helping our entire society move forward.

Under these recommendations, New York-financed housing operators would be forbidden to discriminate based on criminal conviction alone. Instead, they will be forced to conduct an individual assessment of the applicant that will factor in the type of crime committed and whether the applicant has since shown evidence of rehabilitation.

In addition, New York agencies will adopt “fair chance hiring.” Applicants for competitive positions with New York agencies will not be required to discuss or disclose information about prior convictions until and unless the agency has interviewed the candidate and is interested in hiring him or her. This change is necessary because employers, unfortunately, often do not look further at an applicant once they learn that the individual has a criminal conviction. As a consequence, many qualified New Yorkers are denied the opportunity to contribute in the job market, including in state service.

If we continue to deny these citizens the opportunity to invest in their futures, they will only continue to rely on public assistance, including Medicaid, or unemployment, and place the burden of the cost on New York taxpayers.

These individuals have served their time, but we must help them survive their mistakes. We must ensure they are not condemned to a life of punishment because of a stigma that raises the hurdle, preventing them from successfully reintegrating back into society.

New York truly is the cradle of progressivism on so many issues. All New Yorkers deserve a fair and equal chance to achieve their goals. We have a major opportunity to extend progress to our entire community with these changes, and we are well on our way towards achieving a safer and more sustainable New York.