Aldermen lend ex-offenders a hand

Thanks to a unanimous vote by the Board of Aldermen Monday night, it will soon be easier for ex-offenders to obtain street vendor licenses from the city.

Known as the Collateral Consequences Ordinance, the legislation made the rules for obtaining city permits more consistent with the procedures outlined in the state’s 2009’s “Ban the Box” law, which placed tighter restrictions on the ways in which a criminal background check can be used in employment decisions. Proponents say the ordinance will help combat employment discrimination and recidivism in New Haven.

“This complements recent efforts to help those with previous criminal convictions to reenter the community,” said Ward 9 Alderwoman Jessica Holmes, the chair of the Board’s legislation committee. “Instead of immediate disqualification, applicants will be considered on a case-by-case basis. It’s extra important to those who face other barriers to gainful employment.”

Amy Meek LAW ’09, coordinator of the New Haven Prison Re-entry Initiative, said the ordinance attempts to address the issue of the collateral consequences of criminal convictions — a broad array of legal penalties that result from a conviction but are not part of the sentence for the crime — which often hinder employment and housing searches.

Harold Williams, who was denied a vending permit three times after being released from prison in 2009, was also present at the meeting. He expressed frustration with the lack of options available to many people in his situation.

“A lot of people need a second chance, and they often don’t know where they’re going to get one,” he said. “After waiting for this, to get it is overwhelming.”

Meek, who helped draft the ordinance, said about one in seven people who applied for vendor permits in 2011 were denied because of a criminal background. People who have been convicted of a crime often seek food cart permits and vendor licenses because “the costs to entry are low, and it’s a good entrepreneurial activity for someone who’s just getting started,” she said.

Holmes said the background check is still a part of the application for the permit, but it would account for the specific nature and severity of the crime, as well as potential rehabilitation.

Ward 3 Alderwoman Jacqueline James-Evans proposed a successful amendment to the ordinance that requires the city to create an appeals process for applications it rejects. She said she wanted applicants to have legal recourse if city officials did not comply with the spirit of the ordinance.

According to Meek, the proposal comes at a time of growing national attention to issues of criminal recidivism and collateral consequences. She said many ex-offenders wished they knew more about the legal difficulties they will face after their actual sentences expire.

A 2010 study by the American Bar Association found that Connecticut had as many as 633 statutes that detailed collateral consequences for ex-offenders.

The ordinance passed on Monday night also requires the city to identify and post all such statutes online — an effort Meek said is the first of its kind in the country.

Ward 25 Alderman Adam Marchand said the measure will now head to Mayor John DeStefano Jr. for his signature.

Comments

  • DocHollidaye

    Making a living is a right that should not be denied any man or woman. Over the years I’ve seen how it has become increasingly difficult for street vendors to sell. There’s been a great deal of red tape for those who don’t have criminal records so I can’t imagine how much more difficult it is for those who do have records.

    If we make legitimate ways of earning money difficult, hard to access, then aren’t we lending to the problem of people looking for illegal ways to survive? A free market place is important to the health and welfare of all communities.

    Some of the best deals I’ve ever gotten have been from small street vendors and it was very disheartening to see them disappearing one by one due to new and more strict ordinances.