Md. Bill Could Help Ex-Convicts Shield Criminal Record

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File photo of handcuffed prisoner. (credit: MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images)

File photo of handcuffed prisoner. (credit: MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images)

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Letting ex-convicts shield their criminal records from prospective employers could be the major step toward making Maryland’s prison re-entry rate plummet, Attorney General Doug Gansler said.

A pending Senate bill would allow shielding for 13 nonviolent misdemeanors, such as drug possession and trespassing. If the convicted person had no new offenses within five years after the sentence was completed, employers and colleges wouldn’t be able to look at these criminal records.

Michigan’s re-entry rate dropped significantly over nine years after the state took strides to help ex-convicts, putting it at 29 percent in the latest estimate. Meanwhile, Gansler said, Maryland’s rate is still around 46 percent.

“We’re not talking about rape, murder, arson, bank robbery,” Gansler said Tuesday to the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. “If you’re trying to get a job at the 7-Eleven, for example, it’s really not relevant that you committed trespass or that you had some pot, eight, ten years ago.”

To stay out of prison, ex-convicts typically need housing, jobs and the support of family or friends, Gansler said. The current law can handicap them by making it harder to find work.

Del. Curt Anderson, D-Baltimore City, has filed a parallel bill in the House. Similar bills have failed to pass the past two years. The Senate bill’s sponsor, Jamie Raskin, D-Montgomery, said he worked with some of the bill’s opponents to reach a compromise.

Other proposals this year would allow the erasure of certain criminal records, including most felonies, but Raskin and Anderson’s measure has the broadest backing. This year it has endorsements from the Maryland Bankers Association, the University of Maryland and the Board of Nursing, among other organizations.

The bill wouldn’t stop employers from asking applicants about their criminal histories. But they couldn’t decline to hire an applicant because he or she refuses to discuss the subject.

However, misdemeanor theft is among the eligible offenses, and Gansler said it might be wise to require a waiting period of eight years to have that crime shielded.

The Maryland Chamber of Commerce opposes the bill on the grounds that even low-level misdemeanors can be relevant to job applications. For instance, the bill would prevent pharmacies from learning about drug-related crimes and trucking companies from learning about driving offenses, the chamber noted in a written report.

“The passage of time without a conviction in Maryland does not necessarily indicate lack of criminal activity,” the report states.

(© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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