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Reduce Barriers for Persons with Prior Arrest and Conviction Records




On March 29, 2011 the San Francisco Reentry Council unanimously voted to send a letter to the Mayor and San Francisco Board of Supervisors. This letter urges the Mayor and Board of Supervisors to pass legislation prohibiting the discrimination of persons with arrest and conviction records. In addition, it urges the San Francisco Human Rights Commission to draft compliance guidelines.

On April 14, 2011, the San Francisco Human Rights Commission voted unanimously to send a letter to the Mayor and Board of Supervisors urging the legislation to be passed. Click here to view the letter. The Commission heard testimonies from citizens that have prior arrest and convictions records. They testified to the difficulty they face in securing housing and employment in San Francisco after completing their sentences. Reentry Counsel Co-Chair and Public Defender Jeff Adachi explained to the Commission about the importance of this type of legislation, and how vital it is to support these individuals with housing and employment as they work to becoming law abiding citizens. In addition, staff from the Reentry Council as well as housing and employment law attorneys presented facts and statistics regarding discrimination of persons with prior arrest and/or conviction records. Further, these presenters discussed model legislation in other jurisdictions, including Massachusetts, Connecticut, Illinois, Hawaii and 30 cities and counties.

Since the Commission voted to support the proposal, HRC staff has been conducting meetings with local stakeholders to learn more about the impact any proposed legislation would have and to obtain their ideas about how to best address the need to increase public safety reduce barriers to persons with arrest and conviction records.

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 Best Practices for Reducing Barriers for Persons with Prior Arrest and Conviction Records

 Best Practices for Reducing Barriers for Persons with Prior Arrest and Conviction Records


Remove any language on your advertisement and postings that indicate that persons with prior arrest or conviction records will not be considered.


Refrain from listing questions about prior arrests or convictions from your initial application until you’ve determined that an applicant is otherwise qualified.


Before taking adverse action against an applicant, provide the applicant with a copy of the background check report, explanation of how that specific conviction is housing-related or job-related, and give him or her a chance to present additional information and request reconsideration.


Consider the individual circumstances of each applicant in deciding whether or not a particular conviction is related.


If your reason for not admitting or hiring an otherwise qualified applicant is based in whole or in part on a prior conviction, document your decision and your analysis.

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EEOC Votes to Update Criminal Background Check Policies, Clarifying Civil Rights Standards for San Francisco’s Employers and Workers

With more Americans affected by employer use of criminal background checks than ever before U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on April 25, 2012 voted to update its decades-old guidance on how employers may use criminal background checks in their hiring decisions. The old EEOC guidance dates back to 1987, when current Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas chaired the EEOC. The updated guidance provides employers with greater clarity on the fair use of background checks, in order to help the vast majority of employers who want to do the right thing but are often unaware of federal civil rights laws. The guidance will also go a long way to educate workers, especially workers of color, who face tremendous challenges in navigating the expanded use of criminal background checks for employment in today’s competitive job market.

In the 25 years since the EEOC issued its initial guidance, the use of background checks by employers has exploded in popularity. Today, more than 90 percent of employers conduct criminal background checks on some or all job applicants (up from 51 percent in 1996), according to a 2010 Society of Human Resources Management survey. The ramped-up use of background checks today adds a major hurdle to the job prospects of a vast segment of U.S. workers. An estimated 65 million people in the United States—or one in four adults—have an arrest or conviction record that can show up on a routine criminal background check for employment. The problem is especially severe for African Americans and Latinos, who are overrepresented in the criminal justice system and are hit hard by higher rates of unemployment.

In the wake of the updated EEOC guidance, HRC will join groups in San Francisco and around the country to step up their efforts to educate employers as well as workers on the fair use of criminal background checks.

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HRC's Public Hearing on “The Human Rights Impact of the War on Drugs”
HRC welcomed over 100 community members to the Board Chambers for our hearing
on the “Human Rights Impact of the War on Drugs.” In addition, the HRC was happy to host SF Police Chief Greg Suhr, SF Juvenile Probation Chief William Sifferman and representatives from the District Attorney’s Office, the Sheriff’s Department, and Adult Probation as our guests to the hearing. Presenters from All of Us or None, the Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice, the National Employment Law Project, Immigrant Legal Resource Center, Center for Young Women’s Development joined Alice Huffman, California President of the NAACP in advising the commission on individual rights impacted by the War on Drugs and making recommendations increase public safety and reinstitute those rights. In addition, more than 30 members of the public provided testimony on how the War on Drugs has impacted their rights and their communities.


"The War on Drugs in California" panel discussion, presented by The Second Chance Legal Clinic and featurring George Gascón (San Francisco District Attorney), Selena Teji (Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice) and Khurshid Khoja (Greenbridge Corporate Counsel), and moderated by HRC Policy Analyst Zoe Polk

The third event in the Second Chance Legal Clinic's "Policing in Communities of Color Discussion Series," this event addressed how the War on Drugs has shaped policing practices in communities of color. Panelists discussed: racial profiling in drug arrests and convictions; the impact of drug criminalization on low income communities of color; and the need for reform in drug law enforcement. Click here for event details.

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For more information about HRC’s proposal to reduce barriers for persons with arrest and conviction records, please contact Zoe Polk at  

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