Job-search and Housing advice for ex-offenders

Disclaimers:

1:         None of the following constitutes legal advice!
2:         The information here is specific to the state of Arizona. Specific steps in dealing with convictions from other states may differ.

Review and clean-up of Criminal Record:

Arizona uses a Central Repository to store information regarding criminal convictions. This is the only place where the official record is kept (it is uploaded to the Federal government maintained by the FBI).

Arizona maintains records in the Central Repository for 99 years, so any information in there is likely to stay there until after you die.

Therefore, you want to make sure that the information in the Central Repository is correct. Much like a credit report, you have the right to obtain a copy of your record and challenge any incorrect information. This is something you will want to do; it is difficult enough to handle your own criminal conviction without the added burden of dealing with incorrect information.

The good news is that Arizona is a Closed Record state, which means that only you and a very select few, and only under very strict guidelines, have access to your criminal record through the Central Repository. Agencies that run “Criminal Background Reports” are using other sources, which may not match what is on the Official Record.

Request a Record Review by calling 602-223-2222. There may be a fee, and you likely are required to submit fingerprints to prove identity.

If there is any inaccurate information, you can submit a Challenge Form, detailing the specific arrest date and what is inaccurate. It is vital that you sign and date the challenge or it will be rejected.

Restoration of Rights and Judgment of Guilt Set Aside

Once you have completed your sentence (served the time, paid the fines, finished probation/parole), you then have the right to petition the court to:

Have the conviction designated to a misdemeanor
Have your rights restored (right to vote, to carry firearms, etc.)
Have the judgment of guilt set aside / conviction vacated (expunged)

NOTE: once the judgment has been set aside, the court no longer has access to your Official Record in the Central Repository, which means that any inaccurate information will remain there for 99 years. It is STRONGLY advised that you take care of EVERYTHING else first and do a final Record Review BEFORE you petition to have the judgment of guilt set aside.

There may be exceptions, but I understand that the courts generally consider that once the sentence has been completed, it is completed, so the judgment of guilt is often set aside. However, this does NOT mean that the crime or the conviction never happened. So when you are asked the question, “Have you been convicted of a crime / of a felony,” the correct response is, “Yes, however the judgment was set aside,” and give the details:

Date of conviction
Class of conviction
Penalty
Current status (including “judgment of guilt set aside”).

Employment

1.  Can companies refuse to hire someone with a felony conviction?

Legally, no, unless they can show that there is a bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ) to do so. For example, a conviction for a violent crime will likely prohibit you from working with vulnerable populations; a conviction for theft will likely prohibit you from working in retail or anywhere where you might be handling cash transactions, etc.

2.  Do all companies know this?

No. However, I have noticed a remarkable difference over the past four years in the attitudes of employers. In 2010, I was seeing a lot of employers flatly rejecting any candidate who had a criminal conviction. Now, most employers say they will consider convictions on a case by case basis: what, when, and how it may or may not impact the responsibilities of the position (drug convictions, for example, could be overlooked for warehouse or kitchen positions, though probably not for health care positions).

3.  Can I get a list of “felon-friendly” employers?

Some job seekers ask for, and some workforce professionals provide, a list of employers willing to hire ex-offenders. I personally do not use such a list. I find that there are enough employers willing to consider convictions that a list is unnecessary. I advise my clients that if they do run into a roadblock with an employer who flatly says, “No,” to find another employer.

4.  Financial Incentives:

Some larger employers like to hire ex-offenders in order to use as an income source for themselves. I do not know enough about either to explain how they work, so I advise a job seekers to contact one of the agencies below to get more details:

The Work Opportunity Tax Credit may be available to employers who hire ex-offender applicants within 12 months of release.

The Federal Bonding Program is a 6-month fidelity bond that can cover losses of up to $5,000.

5.  What if I am turned down for a job?

If you are turned down for employment based on a “criminal report,” you have the right to ask for, and employers are obligated to provide, their source. If you can show that any information of the “criminal report” differs from the Official Record from the Central Repository, this may be enough to persuade an employer to reconsider.

The most important thing I advise my clients is, do not be a martyr to your past. Own up to your past mistakes, but move on. You have strengths and qualifications and skills. Use these to your advantage, just like all other job seekers. Just recognize that there are a couple more hurdles (not barriers!) in your path.

Housing

I worked for over two years as a property manager for HUD-assisted housing. For my properties, we used a legal Selection Criteria that dictated who we could exclude from consideration. These included:

No evictions past 10 years
No felony convictions past 7 years
(being HUD-funded) no sex crimes, ever.

Of course, different properties will have different standards, but I suspect that all will have some set of guidelines.

I am not an attorney, but I would argue that if you are denied housing based on an offense (criminal conviction or eviction) that is outside what is specified in the Selection Criteria, the housing complex is opening itself up to legal action.

I would advise a rental applicant who has been denied a unit based on a “criminal report” to ask for a copy of the relevant section of the Selection Criteria, and to ask where they obtained the “criminal report” (which they are legally obligated to provide).

Resources:

To obtain a Record Review packet and Challenge form, call:
602-223-2222

For employment assistance, the Family Service Agency offers a fee-based three-day workshop (in some cases, the fee may be deferred or waived):
602-264-9891
www.fsaphoenix.org

AZ Common Ground was created and is run by ex-offenders to provide services for men, women and youth upon release from prison:
602-914-9000
www.azcommonground1.com

Success doesn’t come to you. You go get it.

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