Letter From The President Of The New York City Bar Association

2008-06-01 00:00

To The Readers Of The Metropolitan Corporate Counsel:

The City Bar Association has recently focused its attention on the process of reentry and the problems faced by the thousands of individuals released from prison each year. Our Task Force on Employment Opportunities for the Previously Incarcerated, chaired by former President Michael Cooper, has released its report, urging legal employers to take a leading role in securing employment for individuals who are released from prison. In issuing its report, the Task Force has focused on the most serious of all contributing factors to the high rate of recidivism: unemployment.

In New York State approximately 27,000 individuals are released each year from state prison. According to federally compiled statistics, two thirds of all people released from prison are rearrested within three years. These statistics are grim and those who leave our prison face numerous barriers that are conducive to a renewal of criminal behavior: a lack of basic work skills, employers' reluctance to hire, and employment bans. Faced with these obstacles, recently released individuals find themselves on an inevitable path toward recidivism.

The Task Force's report concluded, therefore, that enhancing employment opportunities for the formerly incarcerated is a crucial step toward breaking the vicious cycle of recidivism. It also concluded that law firms and lawyers should take a leading role in securing employment for individuals who are released from prison and seek reintegration into society. Law firms are leaders in critical areas of society and frequently set standards for others to follow.Lawyers play central roles in the processes that lead to the imprisonment of individuals. Thus, it is the legal profession that must lead by setting an example for others to follow.

The Task Force's report confirms that an individual's likelihood of committing a crime is correlated with his or her work status. The report also notes that the obstacles to employment confronted by an individual released from prison are staggering. A small survey of law firms conducted by the Task Force revealed that some firms are concerned about safety issues, some with "truth and honesty" issues, while others expressed concern with a "comfort level."

The Task Force report listed a number of recommendations aimed at breaking the cycle of recidivism.The report strongly recommends that legal employers take full advantage of job placement and post-placement services provided by workforce intermediaries. These organizations provide job readiness and skills training, job placement assistance and follow-up support to applicants after employment. The report documents the success of a number of these groups e.g. the Doe Fund, the Fortune Society, the Osborne Association, Com Alert, the Center for Employment Opportunities and STRIVE. These organizations can successfully interface between the employer and employee and encourage employers to frequently turn to them for help with hiring and retention.

The report also recommends that new state and federal incentives must increase employers' willingness to hire previously incarcerated persons. Currently certain federal initiatives protect employers against theft, embezzlement or forgery by covered employees while others reduce an employer's federal income tax liability.

The report also recommends that legal employers be as willing to interview and hire individuals with prior criminal records as any other individuals possessing comparable job skills. In addition, these employers should provide the same opportunities for advancement to these individuals.

The City Bar Association is committed to enhancing the employment opportunities for the previously incarcerated. To achieve that goal, the Association will collaborate with its members, bar leaders and legal employers to implement the recommendations of the report. Providing secure employment will reduce recidivism, reduce the costs of maintaining a huge prison population and enhance public safety.As the Task Force report notes, all of these goals make good business sense for legal and other employers, as well as accomplishing important social objectives.


Barry Kamins