In 1955, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “If a man doesn’t have a job or an income, he has neither LIFE nor LIBERTY nor the possibility for the pursuit of happiness. He merely exists.”
Taking a cue from Dr. King, Mr. Paul L. Howard, Jr., The Fulton County District Attorney, and The Georgia Justice Project along with its Executive Director, Mr. Doug Ammar, crafted “first of its kind” legislation in Georgia designed to give those convicted of non-violent felonies and misdemeanors the right to restrict those convictions from their record. HB 981 gives Georgia citizens a chance to get a job, keep the one they have, gain entry into the military, and admission to college.
Certain non-violent felony and misdemeanor offenders would qualify for the record restriction and seal by the court if they completed their sentence and have not been arrested or convicted for five years after its completion. Violent offenders, offenders with convictions involving children, and sexual offenders do not qualify for this restriction and seal.
For years, Mr. Howard has operated a record restriction and expungement unit in The Fulton County District Attorney’s Office. The office has helped thousands of Georgia citizens with restriction and expungement requests. In 2017 alone, the office restricted 2,271 criminal history records. However, Mr. Howard points out, the laws of the State of Georgia do not allow general restrictions on some non-violent felonies and misdemeanors. Far too many left the District Attorney’s Office frustrated and without hope because they could not be helped. Between 1963 and 2012, 705,794 people were convicted of a non-violent felony in the State of Georgia. 3,881,867 were convicted of a non-violent misdemeanor in the State of Georgia during that time. There are Georgia citizens who were convicted of minor felonies and misdemeanors as teenagers, 30 to 40 years ago, who are still being punished today. Unfortunately, many of these convictions have forced them to seek lesser paying jobs or have prevented them from being able to find work at all.
Mr. Ammar, in his leadership role with the Georgia Justice Project, has experienced the same difficulties. The two have joined forces in a unique partnership to give many Georgia citizens a second chance at employment and life. Under HB 981, Howard and Ammar propose applicants could legally deny the arrest and conviction exists when seeking employment. The court would seal the records from the public when granting a restriction.
25 states authorize the restriction of non-violent felonies from a person’s record. 39 states allow the restriction of non-violent misdemeanors. On average, the unemployment rate dropped 2.62% in those states. The incidents of crime dropped by 338 per 100,000 in states that have authorized record restrictions. The Douglas County Economic Development Authority and Chris Watkins, from Russell Landscape Group, a commercial landscape contract business headquartered in Norcross, Georgia, support HB 981 and said recently it is tough to find strong employees to hire without a law like this on the books.
In its 2017-2018 report, Governor Nathan Deal’s Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform said, “As other states have recognized, creating mechanisms for record restriction and sealing of past convictions is not only a matter of providing second chances, but also an issue of economics and public safety.” Mr. Howard and Mr. Ammar believe the time is NOW to act and pass HB 981 in the State of Georgia.
Former State Representative LaDawn Jones is the consultant working on passing HB 981. Jones has been talking to legislators on both sides of the aisle about the bill. Democrats and Republicans all agree Georgian’s facing this uphill battle deserve a “second chance,” and Jones is excited about the possibility of its passage.
Joining Mr. Howard and Mr. Ammar, from the Georgia Justice Project, in support of HB 981 is Reverend Dr. Raphael Warnock, Pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, Reverend Dr. Kevin R. Murriel, Pastor of Cascade United Methodist Church, and Mr. Roger Wise, Longtime Republican Fulton County community supporter.