26 Criminal Justice Reform Organizations Support Governor Cuomo’s Decision Not to Reveal Names
February 20th, 2018: The 26 undersigned criminal justice reform organizations strongly support Governor Cuomo’s pardon of 140 individuals who were convicted of one misdemeanor or non-violent felony when they were under the age of 18, and his decision to keep the names confidential. These individuals should now be allowed to move on with their lives without the stigma resulting from these convictions, which occurred when they were minors.
Last year, New York took the critical and long overdue step of raising the state’s age of criminal responsibility to 18 years. As a result of this action, most young people who are convicted of misdemeanors and non-violent felonies will be tried as minors, and their youth records will be sealed so that they are not subject to the damaging and often lifelong collateral consequences that occur as a result of a criminal conviction. In passing Raise the Age legislation, New York acknowledged that a mistake made during one’s youth should not limit opportunities to live a productive life as an adult.
By protecting the identities of those individuals recently pardoned, Governor Cuomo is protecting their right to move on to a productive life.
As technology has advanced and information has become more widely accessible, the need to protect individuals’ justice histories has increased. Publishing the names of individuals recently pardoned for crimes committed before the age of 18 years old would make it easier for employers, landlords and the curious public to find out about their convictions, thereby limiting their opportunities to rebuild their lives while at the same time abetting perpetuation of stigma.
And the stigma is unfortunately very real, and has real effects. Labelling an individual as a “criminal, “ as publication of a list would effectively do, furthers discrimination that not only harms the named individuals and their families, but entire communities and the economy more broadly. The effect is most clear in employment. A 2015 New York Times article reported that men with past criminal justice involvement make up a full 34% of all non-working men ages 25-54. Research from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) found that the inability of formerly incarcerated and justice-involved persons to find paid employment lowered the overall national employment rate by almost 0.9 percent. The study notes that this effect creates a:
substantial cost on the U.S. economy in the form of lost output of goods and services… [CEPR] estimate[s] that in 2008, these employment losses cost the country $57 to $65 billion per year. Experts commonly agree that employment post-incarceration plays an important role in successful re-entry and stabilization.
Publication of a list of individuals granted pardons for crimes committed when they were young – in some cases decades ago – will also further discrimination in college admissions. While criminal record-based employment discrimination violates local, state and federal law, this is not the case in higher education. Colleges and universities can and do deny admission on the basis of a past conviction, even though no studies show that this creates a safer campus, and even though study after study shows the huge public safety benefits of higher education. The impact of this discrimination is very real. A recent study showed that 35% of schools surveyed denied admission to at least one applicant in a recent semester because of their criminal history. Having a criminal record discourages potential college applicants with justice histories from even applying in the first place, likely because they reasonably expect a negative outcome. A 2015 study by the Center for Community Alternatives estimated that nearly two out of every three applicants to SUNY who self-report a felony conviction history did not complete the application process. (In 2016, SUNY announced that it would “ban the box” for felony convictions on its applications. However, many private colleges and universities still ask for conviction information.)
Releasing the names of the people who were pardoned would effectively erase the benefit of the pardons. It would abet the already pervasive and pernicious discrimination that people with conviction histories face in our society. Publishing the names of the young people pardoned in lists that may live on the internet in perpetuity will saddle them with that stigma forever. Governor Cuomo was right to grant these pardons and to protect the privacy of the people who were pardoned. We applaud this positive example of his commitment to creating a fairer criminal justice system for all New Yorkers.
Alliance of Families for Justice
The Bronx Defenders
Brooklyn Defender Services
Center for Community Alternatives
Center for Employment Opportunities
Children’s Defense Fund – NY
Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York
Community Service Society
The Doe Fund
Exodus Transitional Community, Inc.
The Greenburger Center for Social and Criminal Justice
Immigrant Defense Project
Legal Action Center
Legal Aid Society
Mobilization for Justice (MFJ)
Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem
The Osborne Association
The Prisoner Reentry Institute at John Jay College
TASC of the Capital District
Women’s Prison Association