Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Reformed Criminal Barriers

This story from the New York Times points out the difficulty surrounding many reformed criminals when they try to practice a trade and it is a great joy to see some of these legal barriers fall.

An excerpt.

“Marc La Cloche didn’t get to do much with his life. In death, though, he has left his imprint. It is to have made the path a bit less rocky for New Yorkers like him, former prison inmates who try to go straight but find themselves sandbagged by bureaucracy and indifference.

“Mr. La Cloche was no saint. He did an 11-year stretch in New York prisons for first-degree robbery. Along the way, he acquired a passion for barbering, so much so that he had the image of a barber’s clippers and comb tattooed on his right arm. In prison, he put in hundreds of hours learning the craft. It was how he wanted to make his living after he did his time and moved to the Bronx in 2001.

“Only he couldn’t get a required state license. The licensing authority, New York’s Department of State, said that his “criminal history” proved that he lacked the necessary “good moral character and trustworthiness.” In other words, Mr. La Cloche could not lawfully ply the trade that the state had taught him in prison because of the very fact that he had been in prison. Joseph Heller couldn’t have made this stuff up.

“Mr. La Cloche took his case to the courts, but his efforts ultimately went nowhere. The same may be said of him. On welfare and suffering from AIDS — a disease that few knew he had — he died three years ago at age 40. “I felt like Marc’s illness was exacerbated by his fight for this license,” said Glenn Martin, vice president of the Fortune Society, a New York group that helps former inmates.

“The La Cloche case did not go unnoticed. Among those paying attention were State Senator Velmanette Montgomery of Brooklyn and Assemblyman Michael Benjamin of the Bronx, Democrats both. They sit on committees that deal with prison issues.

“With Mr. La Cloche in mind, they introduced bills to forbid the state to deny a license to a would-be barber or cosmetologist just because of an applicant’s criminal record. Barbering and cosmetology were singled out because they are skills valued both in prison and in the neighborhoods to which many inmates return, once freed…

“Some state officials didn’t like the bills. When they were passed by the Legislature last year, Gov. Eliot Spitzer vetoed them. One argument against them was that discrimination based solely on a criminal record is already forbidden by the state’s Correction Law…

“TIMES change. So do governors — in New York, sometimes unexpectedly. What might well be called the La Cloche Law passed the Legislature once more. This time, it went to Gov. David A. Paterson. He signed it a few weeks ago.”