“In this economy I can’t fill the jobs I have.”
“I would hire someone with a criminal record, but I can’t because my insurance rates will go up if I do.”
These are some of the comments I have heard from employers during Arizona’s economic boom. With thousands of people released from state prison each year, and economic opportunities abounding, it is the perfect time to get ex-offenders working while also helping to dramatically reduce the recidivism rate.
The two main reasons for recidivism are lack of job opportunities and lack of housing options. Arizona has work opportunities and employers willing to hire. Arizona also boasts an ever-increasing number of housing developments with landlords racing to lease. Ex-offenders who secure jobs are more likely to be able to afford and qualify for housing. Likewise, ex-offenders who obtain housing are more less likely to reoffend. So why haven’t we been able to get Arizona’s ex-offender population into jobs? Because, depending on the industry, many employers that are willing to hire them do not because they face exorbitant liability insurance if they do.
A.R.S. § 13-905 allows for a person who has completed a jail or prison sentence and paid all associated fines and restitution to apply to the court to have their conviction set aside and vacated. When they do apply for a set-aside and get the order vacating their conviction, what does it really do for them? As the set-aside law was written, not much. The court order says that the conviction has been “set aside,” but it does not actually expunge it, erase it from a person’s record, or allow a person to say they have not been convicted. But this legislative session—we’ve achieved a fix. Arizona State Rep. Bret Roberts had an idea to make a set-aside mean something while also addressing Arizona’s recidivism problem.
With the passage of HB 2067, Rep. Roberts modified the set-aside statute so that when a court order sets aside a conviction, a person will also get a certificate of second chance. This certificate serves as evidence of completion of a person’s sentence and other associated obligations stemming from a conviction.
As it relates to employers, HB 2067 releases employers from liability “for negligently hiring or contracting for employment with the person if the theory of liability is premised solely on the existence of a person’s prior felony conviction.” The same applies to landlords—i.e., apartment complexes or rental homes. If a person receives this certificate, the theory is that a potential and willing employer (or landlord) can then show it to their liability insurance company and the company will not then raise the insured’s liability rate for hiring or renting to the person. The objective is to create an incentive for employers to hire ex-offenders and to make it easier for those with criminal records to find jobs and housing. By achieving these benchmarks, the hope is to decimate the main hurdles that ex-offenders face upon reentry into society and ultimately reduce individual and statewide recidivism.
Another critical function of this reform is the release a certificate holders “from all barriers and disabilities in obtaining an occupational license issued under Title 32 that resulted from the conviction if the person is otherwise qualified.” Thanks to this reform, now an ex-offender cannot be denied a license if he has a felony conviction and is otherwise qualified for the license, i.e., a barber who is qualified by the cosmetology board but who has an unrelated past felony conviction cannot be denied a barber’s license simply for the fact of having that felony.
HB 2067 creates a great opportunity to address the two main contributing factors in Arizona’s recidivism problem: jobs and housing. It was passed this session—the governor signed it into law on April 1, 2021. “Second Chances” is a meaningful step forward in filling jobs and homes for a population that needs both, strengthening the economy and workforce, and hopefully removing the barriers that cause folks to reoffend in Arizona.
The 2020-2021 legislative session was yet another session that saw many criminal justice reforms promoted. However, HB 2067 may be the sleeper idea that makes a meaningful difference in the lives of ex-offenders and the future of our communities.