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Austin/Travis County Reentry Roundtable
Newsletter

June 2016

HUD Releases Seminal Guidance on the Fair Housing Rights of Formerly Incarcerated Persons


On April 4th, 2016, HUD Secretary Julián Castro announced guidance on HUD’s interpretation of how the fair housing law applies to policies that exclude people with criminal records. The guidance states that admission denials, evictions, and other adverse housing decisions based on a person’s criminal record may constitute racial discrimination under the Fair Housing Act. This fair housing guidance comes on the heels of HUD’s November 2015 guidance, which warned public housing authorities and other HUD-assisted owners against relying on arrest records in federally subsidized housing. To learn more click here

Developing a Local Strategy to Address System Barriers to Employment


On June 8th, the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition (ECHO) and the Reentry Roundtable will be hosting the third of three conversations focusing on addressing system barriers to employment for persons who are homeless and/or have criminal backgrounds. The first meeting focused on building understanding about the current local climate and identifying potential opportunities and strengths to build on. A summary of the first meeting can be found here. The second meeting was a conversation with previously incarcerated individuals in Austin about the barriers they faced regarding employment. Join us for the third meeting, an interactive session to identify strategies to address barriers to employment in three breakout areas:
1) Organizational Policy Changes
2) Employer Engagement
3) Local and Regional Advocacy Efforts
The meeting will be held at the Travis County Administrative Building (700 Lavaca St.), 2nd Floor, Conference Room B (parking garage validation provided) on Wednesday, June 8th, 1-3pm. Please RSVP to caity@woollardnichols.com

Featured Reentry Advocacy Project Member: Michael Davis

 

Name: Michael Davis

What drives your passion and makes you excited to get out of bed in the morning? God’s blessing of waking up to see another day and the love of my family drives me to press forward every day.

Why do you participate in the Reentry Advocacy Project? The main reason I participate is because I can be an inspiration to others. Not only that, but I’m able to connect and communicate with people who have been down the same road I’ve traveled on. It’s a group where you are not judged or looked down on. It is somewhere that you always feel welcome and at peace among like-minded people. With my knowledge of the legal field as a Paralegal, I know I can bring my fair share to the group. This is also a moment where I can be a voice and a leader in my community. I was once part of the problem but now I can be part of the solution to make a change.

What words of wisdom do you have for others leaving incarceration? Stay humble and find a support group that is willing to mentor and guide you in the right direction. Next, be willing to take any job starting off and build up some good work experience. Finally, go to school, learn a trade, and get educated. Stay away from all the negative vibes and never give up.

Featured Planning Council Member Interviews from Reentry Week


Reentry Roundtable Advocacy Fellow Lauren Johnson interviewed Kenneth Thompson, Department of Family and Protective Services - Fatherhood Program Specialist;
Planning Council Vice Chair Helen Gaebler, UT School of Law; and Planning Council Past Chair Laura Sovine, Austin Recovery for National Reentry Week. Click the images below to read their interviews. 

Community Impact Releases Article Outlining How Austin Businesses Must Respond to Fair Chance Hiring


Austin’s fair chance hiring ordinance—which prohibits most private employers from asking about a job applicant’s criminal history before extending an offer—went into effect April 4, and area businesses are giving mixed feedback about putting the policy into practice. Austin is the first city in the southern United States to adopt a fair chance hiring policy that applies to private employers, according to data from the National Employment Law Project. In Austin the new ordinance applies to businesses with 15 or more employees and does not apply to positions for which a prior law disqualifies candidates with a criminal history. Austin businesses have one year to adopt the fair chance hiring policy, after which employers found in violation will receive a warning for a first-time offense and a fine of up to $500 for subsequent offenses. To read the full article click here

Current Reentry News

 

White House Proposes New Ban the Box Regulations for Federal Government Jobs: Give Your Feedback by July 1st

 
The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has published a proposed rule in the Federal Register that would “Ban the Box” for a significant number of positions in the Federal Government and prohibit the government from asking about the criminal history of applicants for Federal employment until later in the hiring process after a conditional job offer. Promoting the rehabilitation and reintegration of individuals who have paid their debt to society makes communities safer by reducing recidivism and victimization; assists those who return from prison, jail, or juvenile justice facilities to become productive citizens; and saves taxpayer dollars by lowering the direct and collateral costs of incarceration. OPM is asking for public feedback on the initiative. 

Click here to give your feedback by July 1st. 

The president took further action via a memorandum, institutionalizing the Federal Interagency Reentry Council and requiring federal agencies involved with licensing to revise procedures to prevent discrimination against people with records. Part of the federal initiative is to have companies "take the pledge" to ban the box, expanding the scope of the initiative beyond federal jobs. This federal webpage lists out over 100 employers that have taken the pledge.



The Four Questions Likely Saving Lives at the Bexar County Jail


KENS 5 News released an article about suicide in the Bexar County Jail. The jail averaged three suicide attempts a day as recently as last year, according to figures provided to the KENS 5 I-Team. Starting last July, all people arrested in Bexar County receive a mental health screening at the central magistrate's office and receive another while being booked into the jail. People in custody are asked four questions: 

1. Have you ever been seen by a doctor for mental illness?
2. Have you ever been prescribed medication for mental illness?
3. Have you, in the past, considered or tried to kill yourself?
4. Are you considering killing yourself today?

With the implemented changes the jail has become the national model for how to screen inmates for mental health issues. The new mental health screening tool used has played a role in drastically reducing the suicide rate. The number of inmates who have committed suicide in jail custody has dropped roughly 50 percent since 2013, according to BCSO figures. Read the full article here
 

Justice Department Program to no Longer Use Disparaging terms ‘Felons’ and ‘Convicts’


The Justice Department’s Office of Justice Programs is getting rid of the terms “felon” and “convict” when officials refer to individuals convicted of crimes. The Office of Justice Programs plans to substitute terminology such as “person who committed a crime” and “individual who was incarcerated” in speeches and other communications as part of an effort to remove barriers that officials say hinder progress of those who re-enter society after completing their prison sentences. To read the full article from The Washington Post click here

 

The National Employment Law Project Released a Report on Licensing Restrictions Across All 50 States


Passing a criminal background check is a common requirement to obtain a state occupational license. The American Bar Association’s inventory of penalties against those with a record has documented 27,254 state occupational licensing restrictions. “Blanket bans are preventing people with convictions from entering state-regulated occupations, and although more states are paying attention to this issue, stronger reforms are needed,” said Michelle Natividad Rodriguez, NELP senior staff attorney and report lead author. “Given that nearly one in three adults in the U.S. has a record, the effects on communities and our nation’s economy are far-reaching. Any serious effort to address racial disparities in employment must root out unwarranted barriers to occupational licenses.” For the full report click here
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Austin/Travis County Reentry Roundtable · Palm Square · 100 North Interstate 35 · Austin, TX 78701 · USA

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