Criminal Records and Employment in Minnesota

Business Felony


In 2007, Minnesota’s Legislature focused several public safety initiatives on the important business of reducing recidivism among the vast majority of imprisoned offenders who will return from incarceration to live among us. The Legislature created the Collateral Sanctions Committee responsible for this report and mandated that the group study the impact of criminal records on people’s ability to work for a living. In doing so, the Legislature evidenced its understanding of the fact that ex-offenders who are barred from doing things that functional law-abiding adults do – renting an apartment, driving to work, obtaining a job, qualifying for an occupational license – are far likelier to commit new crimes than they would be if they had the options and responsibilities that most of us take for granted.

Minnesota’s criminal law, and the expensive institutions that enact the law, exist to enhance public safety. Insofar as this report makes recommendations concerning employment of people with criminal convictions, those recommendations are centered on the core purpose of protecting the public from crime. The Committee members come from many backgrounds, and they hold diverse views about the role of forgiveness in our lives. This report is not built on a consensus about how much people who have broken the law should pay before they are treated like those who have not. It derives from the conviction held by everyone in the group that Minnesotans will be safer, and Minnesota will be stronger, when everyone who is capable of earning an honest living is allowed and encouraged to do so.

The Committee has chosen to define the term “collateral sanctions” broadly. A “sanction” is a punishment, and a “collateral sanction” is a punishment that results from a crime, but is not imposed by a judge as part of a criminal sentence. Some collateral sanctions are statutory, and the Committee might have confined its work to those. However, the members are cognizant of the broad range of negative consequences on employment that result from contact with the criminal justice system and believe that it is essential to consider the matter as fully as possible.

While the employment of people with significant criminal convictions is a matter of public safety, there is another group of citizens whose contact with the criminal justice system is such that public safety is not the issue. The Committee began by focusing almost exclusively on convicted felons. It soon became clear that there is a larger number of individuals who are no more likely than the next person to commit a crime, but who are barred from employment by outgrown misdemeanor convictions, minor misdemeanor convictions, vacated and dismissed convictions, petty misdemeanor (noncriminal) violations, dismissed charges, stays of adjudication, one-time delinquency adjudications, and arrests not leading to charges. While criminal justice professionals define most of these as experiences that do not leave a person with a criminal record and think that there is a meaningful difference between having a criminal record and not having one, the society as a whole is not making such distinctions. For these people, who are being treated as though they had serious criminal records, improving collateral sanctions policy and practice is not a matter of public safety; it is a matter of basic fairness.

The Collateral Sanctions Committee’s Report does not thoroughly cover all the issues that should be considered, or outline all the actions that should be taken, to ameliorate the negative impact of criminal justice data on employment. Given time constraints and the difficulty of mastering the factors and possibilities involved, the report is our best effort at laying out some important policy, making some specific recommendations for change, and suggesting what remains to be done. We wish to emphasize that sound re-entry policy includes improved access to housing, to behavioral health specialists, and to chemical dependency treatment. The Legislature properly limited the scope of the Committee’s work; even the single area of employment could not be examined fully in six months. However, it is important to recognize that the Committee did not discuss housing, mental health, chemical dependency, or any topic other than eliminating irrational barriers to employment that result from criminal data. For instance, while there were two housing experts on the Committee, the issues arising between landlords and prospective tenants were not explored.

All of the ideas and recommendations expressed in this report have been approved by the Committee. Generally, the group worked by consensus; on one or two occasions, a majority vote determined whether a proposal would go forward. The Committee is grateful to the “interested persons” who contributed their substantial knowledge, energy and common sense to this effort.


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