Examiner.Com: DC Ex-Offender Legislation

Human Rights for Ex-Offenders Amendment Act of 2011 set for Friday, March 11

· By Reginald Johnson, DC Ex-Offender Re-Entry Examiner

· March 9th, 2011 9:45 am ET

The Ban-the-Box Initiative is a movement with real teeth. Baltimore, MD has banned it; so has states like New Mexico, Hawaii, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, just to name a few. Many prison reform advocates and supporters of bringing down societal barrier for returning citizens believes more attention needs to be given to the D.C. council hearing occurring later this week. That is what one returning citizen believes. Donna Marks went to prison eleven years ago for theft and being in possession of stolen property. She said this was during a time in her life where she didn’t have total control.

“I didn’t have control of myself because I was concerned about pleasing the crowd that I was hanging out with. The only thing I didn’t do was crack and cocaine, but I drank and smoked weed, which led me to doing a lot of stupid stuff,” she said.

Friday, the city council Committee on Aging and Community Affairs will hold a hearing about the Human Rights for Ex-Offenders Amendment Act of 2011 (Bill 19-0017). This bill was introduced by city councilman Marion Barry, who is the chairperson of the committee and a returning citizen.

“Every person should be afforded an opportunity to work,” said Louis Sawyer, a returning citizen who works as a peer advocate for University Legal Services. “Removing the box will might get you in for an interview, but doesn’t exclude the employer from doing a background check.” Sawyer also added that it is important to tell the truth while filling out the forms.

“As long as the box is there, you have to fill it out honestly. A refusal to do so is not a reflection of you doing time, but a reflection of your character,” he said.

In reference to D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray appointment of campaign supporter Cherita Whiting, the question “Have you ever been arrested of a felony?” has taken center stage. In January, Whiting was hired as a "special assistant" in the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) making $65,000 annually. The Washington Times reported that she never disclosed to Mayor Gray or her previous employer, city councilman Phil Mendelson, that she had been convicted of a felony.

A source close to Mayor Gray said, “Vince was shocked to hear about the convictions, he is going to pull the paperwork from her employment application to confirm that she did not include the felonies. He was quite upset when I spoke with him about this, like he felt duped by her."

Councilman Mendelson said, “I never verified the information or spoke with Ms. Whiting about it. I also never inquired whether she lied on her job application.” Mendelson said he never thought much about it because she was “already on board.”

Gray spokeswoman Linda Wharton-Boyd via email that Human Resources Department "conducts criminal background checks on all applicants," and "a check by DHR of Ms. Whiting’s file indicates that her response to this question was yes." The Washington Times said she declined to make the document public.

But, The Times also reported that last month Ms. Whiting confirmed in an interview that she did not disclose her most recent felony conviction to her employers. It is unknown if she made them aware of previous arrests or felonies or exactly who is correct.

“This Cherita Whiting thing is why we have to change the way we do business in D.C.,” says Marcus Owen, a returning citizen who follows local politics. “Ex-offenders are scared to be honest because they feel if they check in that box, it’s going to hurt their chances.”

Sawyer said, “A situation like this only sets us [returning citizens] back. We have enough barriers in front of us.”

Everyone employed by D.C. government has to fill out a DC2000 form, which asks, "During the past 10 years have you been: 1) convicted of or forfeited collateral for any felony; or 2) convicted by a court martial?" The form requires the person to disclose details of criminal convictions within the previous 10 years. If the person falsely fills out the form they can be not hired, fired, and possibly punishable by criminal penalties.

The Committee on Aging and Community Affairs hearing on the Human Rights for Ex-Offenders Amendment Act of 2011 is set for Friday, March 11, 2011 at 10:00 AM at 1350 Pennsylvania Ave, NW n Room 412.

Kevin Wrege

Founder & President

Pulse Issues & Advocacy LLC

kwrege

Office: 202-625-1787

Mobile: 202-253-4929

4410 Massachusetts Ave., NW, #150

Washington, DC 20016

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