Nearly 59,000 people are currently in New York State prisons. As these individuals return home and try to provide for themselves and their families, they face steep legal barriers to employment and economic stability. CSS has pursued a variety of strategies, including litigation and grassroots advocacy, to win tangible change for people with conviction histories.
Success in Albany
Each year since 2007, members of the NY Reentry Roundtable have traveled to Albany to advocate for legislation that helps open up opportunities for the formerly incarcerated, and to ease some challenges faced by people now in prison. Our concerted advocacy, together with that of our allies statewide, has been instrumental in several important policy victories:
- In June 2009, New York State amended its alcoholic beverage control law to allow qualified individuals with criminal records to be employed in certain establishments that hold liquor licenses, opening up countless new job opportunities in the food and hospitality industries.
- In 2008, legislation supported by CSS and our allies eliminated the automatic disqualification of individuals with criminal records from applying for licenses to barber or practice cosmetology. Previously, the many people who learn these trades while incarcerated faced difficult barriers to licensing when they were released.
- And in 2010, New York State ended the practice of prison gerrymandering, the census policy of counting prisoners where they are incarcerated, rather than their home districts. This change restores political power to districts with high rates of incarceration.
Our Work in the Courts
CSS takes legal action on behalf of individuals and groups of people who have been denied employment or licensure based on their criminal conviction histories. We also partner with other advocates to fight employment discrimination on a national level.
- CSS filed an amicus brief in the New York State Court of Appeals supporting the Appellate Division’s ruling in Acosta v. New York City Department of Education that protects people with conviction histories from employment discrimination by government agencies. The ruling was affirmed.
- CSS is co-counsel with civil rights advocates from across the nation in a federal Title VII class action lawsuit challenging the U.S. Census Bureau’s systemic employment discrimination during the 2010 decennial census. The suit, Johnson v. Locke, alleges that Census unlawfully screened out hundreds of thousands of job applicants who have arrest records, regardless of whether the arrest led to an actual criminal conviction, a practice that had a massively disproportionate impact on people of color. Together with co-counsel from a prominent New York City firm, CSS also represents an individual census employee terminated from his job on the basis of a sealed arrest.