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Lesniak-Cunningham Bill To Expand Employment Opportunities For Ex-Offenders Approved

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 unanimously approved by the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee today.

“The current law prohibiting ex-offenders from working in establishments where alcohol is served is a relic to a different era, and unfairly prohibits many ex-offenders from finding work, even in a non-server capacity,” said Senator Lesniak, D-Union. “If we’re serious about giving people a chance to put their mistakes behind them and become productive members of society, we have to take a serious look at unfair laws which perpetuate the lack of opportunity which pushed many people into committing a crime in the first place. This bill is about being smarter about how we treat ex-offenders, in order to reduce recidivism and allow people to make a life for themselves after they’ve paid their debt to society.”

“The prohibition against ex-offenders working where liquor is served is overkill, particularly when you consider that such a prohibition automatically assumes that access to alcohol is the prime factor contributing to many people adopting a life of crime,” said Senator Cunningham, D-Hudson. “If a person is willing to work and does a good job, it shouldn’t matter whether or not they have a criminal record. This bill would create more opportunities for employment for ex-offenders, so they can successfully reenter society and put their past misdeeds where they belong – in the past.”

The bill, S-876, would permit certain ex-offenders convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude 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 of moral turpitude 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 crime involving moral turpitude – defined as a serious crime from the viewpoint of society in general, and usually containing elements of dishonesty, fraud or depravity – 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. 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.

“Many recently-released ex-offenders cannot afford the permit fees to be able to work where alcohol is being served, and many more just don’t qualify,” said Senator Cunningham. “This bill creates a fair balance between the concerns of employers and the need to ensure access to meaningful employment for ex-offenders. A criminal record shouldn’t be a scarlet letter to prohibit ex-offenders from supporting themselves and their families.”

“The reality is that, without a chance at a job, many ex-offenders will take advantage of the revolving door currently in place in New Jersey’s criminal justice system,” said Senator Lesniak. “We want to empower people to break the cycle of criminal activity, to find work, and to turn the page on their criminal past. This bill, as part of a larger effort to reshape New Jersey’s criminal justice system, will go a long way to reduce the number of repeat offenders in our prisons, and will give ex-offenders an avenue to reform and rehabilitation which they currently do not have.”

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 full Senate for consideration.

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