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NC Bill Aims to Help Nonviolent Offenders Improve Job Prospects

Each year, more than 20,000 people are released from North Carolina prisons. Finding employment is often one of their biggest challenges. (Adobe Stock)
Each year, more than 20,000 people are released from North Carolina prisons. Finding employment is often one of their biggest challenges. (Adobe Stock)
May 28, 2019

RALEIGH, N.C. - North Carolina legislators are pushing for reforms to make it easier for people to expunge nonviolent criminal offenses from their records.

Introduced by Sens. Warren Daniel of Avery and Danny Britt of Columbus, both Republicans, along with Sen. Floyd McKissick, a Democrat from Durham, Senate Bill 562 - also known as the "Second Chance Act" - would clear nonviolent misdemeanor and low-level felony convictions. It would also automatically erase records of criminal charges that were acquitted or dismissed.

Bill Rowe, general counsel and deputy director of advocacy with the North Carolina Justice Center, said support for the legislation has been encouraging.

"The bill passed the North Carolina Senate unanimously. So, it's pretty hard to find bills that go through the North Carolina General Assembly in that way," McKissick said. "But also, the allies that we're working with are across a broad political spectrum."

Each year, more than 20,000 people are released from North Carolina's prisons. And the majority of the North Carolinians in prison today will eventually be released, according to the state's Department of Public Safety. The Second Chance Act now heads to the House, where Rowe predicted it's likely to pass.

A criminal record remains a top barrier to finding employment, particularly for people of color. Studies have found a nonviolent drug conviction makes an employer less inclined to hire someone, especially if the applicant is black. Rowe pointed out permanently barring people from the workforce after they've served their time can have generational consequences.

"The devastating effect that a criminal record can have on folks - most of these adults have children as well, and so - it can have a generational impact," he said.

The Center for Economic and Policy Research estimated nationwide, more than $78 billion annually is lost due to the long-term unemployment experienced by adults with criminal records.

Reporting by North Carolina News Connection in association with Media in the Public Interest and funded in part by the Park Foundation

Disclosure: Park Foundation - North Carolina contributes to our fund for reporting on Campaign Finance Reform/Money in Pol, Children's Issues, Consumer Issues, Environment. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - NC