Monday, July 25, 2011

Protecting the Public

Individual rights should always be protected, but banning the public from using an individual's past criminal behavior to make a judgement about them should not, but it continues to be an effort for many, as this story from Mercury News reports.

An excerpt.

“SAN FRANCISCO -- This city, known for its tolerance, has banned housing and employment discrimination against gays, lesbians and minority groups -- but a new plan to add ex-convicts to that list has some people saying officials are going too far.

“Under a proposal before the city's Human Rights Commission, private employers and landlords would be prohibited from disqualifying applicants because they have been convicted of a crime or been arrested.

“Proponents say that with California under orders to reduce its prison population, such a plan is necessary to help former inmates reintegrate and reduce the likelihood of repeat offenses. Others, however, say that business owners have a right to be cautious in order to protect themselves and others.

“Similar policies have been implemented by several states and more than 20 local governments across the nation.

“San Francisco's proposal was floated by the city's Reentry Council -- a group that helps adult convicts leaving jail or prison and includes representatives from the District Attorney's Office, the police department and the sheriff's department.

“Public Defender Jeff Adachi, whose office is also represented on the council, said the panel found that employers and landlords were increasingly using background checks and eliminating candidates with criminal records.

“What we saw then is really a revolving door," he said. "A person would be released from custody, not be able to secure housing, not be able to find a job and wind up back in the (prison) system."

“One in four adults in California -- about 7 million people -- has a misdemeanor or felony arrest or conviction record, according to the Reentry Council. In addition, the state is under federal orders to reduce its prison population by more than 20 percent over the next two years.

“Adachi said these factors add particular importance to removing barriers to employment and housing.

“However, David Wasserman, a board member with the San Francisco Apartment Association, said courts have made it clear that owners are responsible for any harm caused by their tenants.

"The concern with this proposal is that you rent to a person because you have to, and then that person ends up assaulting a tenant or a person in the building," he said. "Owners should be able to decide whether the person poses a risk to tenants.”