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Toward ending recidivism

5/2/2012, 8:16 a.m.
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Toward ending recidivism

The new rules for CORI rights go into effect in Massachusetts on May 4. Having a criminal record is one of the major impediments to employment. When an employer has to choose between equally qualified applicants, but one has spent time in jail, the usual outcome is that the one with the CORI loses out.

The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) changed its rules last week to make it a violation of discrimination laws to reject arbitrarily a minority with a record. The reason is that white men are less likely than minorities to serve time. Only one in 17 white men will be imprisoned during their lifetime, compared with one in six Hispanic men and one in three African American men.

The EEOC now requires that human resource officers evaluate the relevance of the nature of the crime before rejecting an applicant who is otherwise qualified. The new Massachusetts rules make the matter even simpler because a criminal record can be administratively sealed if no additional crimes have been adjudged after five years for a misdemeanor and 10 years for a felony.

Judges also have the power to seal cases without any waiting period when they ended in a “not guilty” finding, a dismissal or the prosecutor dropped the case.

Once a record is sealed, a person applying for employment can lawfully state on the application that he has no record. In the interview, he should also not acknowledge that he has ever had a record with respect to the sealed case.

Gov. Deval Patrick’s CORI law has created a new opportunity for those who have been laboring under the burden of a criminal record.

Cutting college costs

Many of the past benefits for African Americans depended on civil rights victories. In the future, there will be greater dependence on general policies that affect everyone.

President Barack Obama’s efforts to continue the lower interest rate for student loans is a good example. Americans with Stafford Loans presently pay an interest rate of 3.4 percent. Unless Congress passes legislation to maintain that rate, it will automatically double to 6.8 percent on July 1 of this year.

The cost of higher education is so high that millions of students have to depend on government loans to meet expenses. This affects Americans regardless of race. However, because of the challenging economic status of a disproportionate number of black families, federal loans are an indispensable segment of the college budget.

Higher education is a crucial qualification for meaningful employment. Those with a college education are more likely to earn a middle-class income and they are half as likely as the general workforce to be unemployed.

Obama has focused on improving education opportunities. The Department of Education has implemented numerous plans to improve the quality of secondary education. And Obama has signed into law a $10,000 tax credit for college tuition to help ease the impact of college education for middle class families.

Until Obama raised the issue, Republicans were willing to let the Stafford interest rate double because of the $6 billion budget cost. Now Republicans in Congress are scurrying around to find a way to fund the budget costs by cutting other benefit programs.

This issue does not have the emotional appeal of the Trayvon Martin killing, but African Americans should become more excited about issues that affect their economic welfare. Their silence on critical issues can be more politically damaging than disenfranchisement.