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"Smart Justice" Bill Gets a Hearing

Criminal-justice advocates say discrimination based on a person's past criminal record extends punishment long after release. (@skywardkick/Twenty20)
Criminal-justice advocates say discrimination based on a person's past criminal record extends punishment long after release. (@skywardkick/Twenty20)
February 27, 2019

HARTFORD, Conn. - State legislators held a hearing Tuesday on a bill that would expand Connecticut's civil rights laws to prohibit discrimination based on a person's criminal history.

The General Assembly's Labor and Public Employees Committee heard testimony on House Bill 6921. The first bill of its kind in the country, it would prohibit discrimination based on a person's arrest or conviction record in employment, housing, public accommodations and a variety of other functions.

Anderson Curtis, a field organizer for the ACLU of Connecticut's Smart Justice campaign, said the stigma and rejection encountered by a person who's been arrested can make any brush with the law into a virtual life sentence.

"Even though they may be in the community," he said, "it is like they're still serving time because of the limited opportunity that they have to reclaim their lives."

Opponents may claim that those who have broken the law are untrustworthy, but Curtis pointed out that access to employment and housing are keys to preventing recidivism. Once people are released from incarceration, he said, they've met their obligation to the community and to the criminal-justice system.

"People living with a criminal record have completed their sentence, paid their debt to society, and they have earned the right to reintegrate into the community as full citizens," he said.

He said keeping people employed and housed benefits the entire state and increases public safety.

Curtis noted that ending discrimination against those with a criminal record also would be a step toward remedying the lingering impact of a criminal-justice system that disproportionately incarcerates African-American and Latino men.

"We rank fifth and seventh in those racial disparities," he said, "and those disparities are later reflected when we come back into the community, as we are limited in seeking access to employment and housing."

Smart Justice is about hope and dignity, Curtis said, not only for those formerly incarcerated but for their families and communities as well.

More information is online at acluct.org.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - CT