Bill could ease permit process

Mayor John DeStefano Jr. is set to bring a bill to the Board of Aldermen Tuesday night that would make it easier for people with criminal records to get licenses and permits from the city.

The ordinance amendment — which DeStefano and Amy Meek LAW ’09, the director of the city’s Prisoner Reentry Initiative, announced at City Hall Friday afternoon — would specifically seek to clarify and minimize the long-term consequences of a criminal conviction. The proposal, called “Collateral Consequences,” would make it easier for former prisoners to obtain food cart and vendor permits, DeStefano said, thereby enhancing employment opportunities for those returning to the community from incarceration.

“There is a group of individuals, those who have older convictions on their records, who continue to face barriers to employment and stable success,” DeStefano said. “The city benefits as a whole when all residents have opportunities for stable employment.”

The proposal builds on the city’s 2009 Ban the Box ordinance, which limits the factors that can be considered in the employment of the re-entry population for public sector jobs, Meek said. Under the ordinance, the nature of an job applicant’s conviction, the length of time since the conviction, the age at the time of the offense and additional information about rehabilitation and good conduct after release cannot be discussed during the hiring process.

In particular, the new bill will make it easier for former prisoners seeking to get a food cart or street vendor license, she said, adding that in the past, one out of every seven applicants for such a license was denied because of a prior criminal conviction.

“When deciding whether or not to plead guilty to a particular charge, people look at the short-term consequences, but later say they wish someone had told them all the other consequences of having a conviction,” Meek said. “An old record can follow somebody for a long time.”

Meek added that the proposal is in line with current recommendations from national organizations, like the American Bar Association and the Uniform Law Commission, that address the national legal regime.

Ward 5 Alderman Jorge Perez, who was elected president of the Board of Aldermen earlier this month, said while the ordinance will be introduced to the board at its second meeting Tuesday night, no action will be taken until after public hearings have been held.

While Perez said he supported the idea behind the ordinance “conceptually,” its ultimate passing will depend on the ordinance’s details, which he said he had not seen.

“I think there’s support [on the board] for people who have done their time to come back to society and assimilate as best they can,” Perez said.

The new ordinance is not the Elm City’s only strategy for tackling the prison re-entry population, New Haven Police Department spokesman David Hartman said.

The NHPD will work with officers from probation and parole to keep tabs on New Haven residents who have recently been released from prison.

“It is not a scare tactic, it is simply to make the recently released prisoners understand that police are watching them and that we know who they are and that individual officers know where they are and what they’ve done and what to look out for,” he said.

DeStefano said several times last year that around 70 percent of New Haven’s crime comes from either the narcotics trade or the re-entry population. This statistic has been cited repeatedly by municipal officials as the Elm City’s murder rate rose to a 20-year high in 2011.

Tuesday night’s Board of Aldermen meeting begins at 7 p.m.

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