ACLU pushes for criminal justice, fair chance employment legislation

Posted at 4:37 PM, Jan 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-08 14:29:06-05

The state of Idaho has the thirteenth-highest incarceration rate in the country. The American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho spoke in the statehouse about civil justice reform.

They laid out a blueprint of what they think the state should be doing, and considering for legislation, to change that number.

"I've had the pleasure of working with a lot of convicted felons and watching them change their lives, just like I have because they were given a fair chance," said Joe Howell, a criminal justice advocate.

Howell was released from prison in 2007 and able to find employment with a telemarketing company. Joe and the ACLU want to see fair chance employment legislation, which Senator Cherie Buckner-Webb is introducing.

"My friend, my neighbor, my loved one, has been incarcerated, wants to go to work, wants to get their lives together they want to feed their children, they want to get a place to live, but they can't get past the initial application for a job," said Webb.

Their hope is more people would be considered for the job based on their skills, not on their past record.

"Do not have to respond to that box but rather wait after an interview, and then an employer can actually do a criminal background check," said Leo Morales, executive director of ACLU Idaho.

Governor Little spoke somewhat about criminal justice reform at his State of the State, noting his plan for a new resource called connection and intervention stations.

"They will offer support, treatment, and accountability for the people on community supervision who need it most," said Little, "meanwhile, I am seeking continued investments in community reentry centers, where inmates returning to our neighborhoods can learn job and life skills."

"Make sure that we're looking at alternatives to incarceration, to the extent that there are programs that would help reduce recidivism, we would support as well," said Morales.

ACLU says the report offers approaches they believe will reduce racial and disability disparities as well. According to their data, in 2017, the imprisonment rate for Black adults in Idaho was five times the rate for white adults. For Native Americans, it was four times the rate. ACLU also notes in their work that Idaho has the nation's fourth-highest rate of imprisonment for women.

"Including ending over-policing in communities of color, requiring prosecutors to offer diversions for people with mental health and substance abuse disabilities," said Morales.

Criminal justice reform is a hot button issue in the 2020 session, as covered by Little in the State of the State. The Division of Financial Management says the Governor recommends adding 500 more out of state beds for inmates, totaling 1100. It's uncertain at this point where they'd be located. His staff says it helps the pressure off counties footing the bill.