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Lesniak-Cunningham Bill To Expand Employment Opportunities For Ex-Offenders Advances In Senate

A view of the Senate Chambers from the 2010-2011 Senate Reorganization.

Measure Part of Legislative Package to Reduce Recidivism, Encourage Rehabilitation

TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senators Raymond J. Lesniak and Sandra Bolden Cunningham which would expand employment opportunities for certain ex-offenders in order to aid in their reentry into society was approved by the Senate yesterday by a vote of 36-0.

“The current law which prohibits ex-offenders from working wherever alcohol is served creates an unfair job market for ex-offenders and perpetuates a cycle of crime for people who cannot find work,” said Senator Lesniak, D-Union. “It’s time to rid ourselves of this relic of the past that puts people at a disadvantage when they’re trying to put past mistakes behind them, get a decent job and become productive members of society. This bill promotes a smarter approach to criminal justice in New Jersey, and recognizes that our best tool to prevent criminal recidivism is access to employment.”

“If a person is willing to work hard and do a good job, it shouldn’t matter whether or not they’ve got a criminal record,” said Senator Cunningham, D-Hudson. “However, under the current law, ex-offenders cannot work anywhere where liquor is served – even in a non-server capacity. Our bill would create more job opportunities for ex-offenders, so that they aren’t put in a position where a life of crime seems like the only viable option.”

The bill, S-876, would permit certain ex-offenders to be employed by alcoholic beverage licensees, so long as they are not involved in the serving, selling, soliciting, mixing or handling of alcoholic beverages. The bill would exclude from the provisions of the bill sex offenders and people convicted of a crime while employed on a licensed premises. Ex-offenders would also be prohibited from providing private security or admission-monitoring services, and would be prohibited from providing or participating in any management or professional services.

Under current law, a person convicted of any serious crime is disqualified from being employed by an alcoholic beverage licensee, unless they have received a Rehabilitation Employment Permit from the Director of the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control. The fee for such a permit is $125 annually, and permits can sometimes take a long time to be issued. Senators Lesniak and Cunningham noted that many alcoholic beverage licensees regularly employ people not involved in the serving or sale of alcoholic drinks, including cooks, janitors and dishwashers, in addition to live entertainment, including band members, singers and DJs. The sponsors noted that the prohibition from employment eliminates a large number of offenders, and the cost of obtaining a necessary permit to work can be burdensome to persons who have recently been released from incarceration.

“So many recently-released ex-offenders cannot afford the high cost of annual permit fees to work where alcohol is being served, and even more just don’t qualify for a permit,” said Senator Cunningham. “This bill reaches a fair compromise between the concerns of employers and the need to create job opportunities for ex-offenders. For people who’ve served their time, paid their debt to society, and are only seeking to move on with their lives, this is the right thing to do.”

“The ABC approval process is not only an unnecessary bureaucratic expense, it delays employment and oftentimes takes away the opportunity of getting a job,” said Senator Lesniak. “And an ex-offender with the doors to employment shut in his face will not likely be an ex-offender for long – he’ll be a repeat offender. We want to close the revolving door policy in New Jersey’s prisons and empower people to break the cycle of criminal activity, find work, and turn the page on their criminal past.”

The bill is part of a larger package of bills, sponsored by Senators Lesniak and Cunningham and introduced earlier this year, to combat recidivism by encouraging alternatives to incarceration for non-violent drug offenders – including treatment and rehab – and by creating employment opportunities for ex-offenders.

The bill now heads to the Assembly for consideration.

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