PHOENIX -- On March 29 a bill that would give individuals with past felonies the opportunity to receive a “second chance” was sent to Gov. Doug Ducey. The bill passed through the Senate on March 25.
If signed into law, House Bill 2067, will allow for individuals who have completed certain criteria to present this information to a judge with hopes of receiving a Certificate of Second Chance. According to Rep. Brett Roberts, R-Maricopa, the prime sponsor of the bill, the certificate once received, could help recipients when it comes to finding employment and housing.
“We’re calling it a Certificate of Second Chance because when you put this in place it gives them the opportunity to go in front of a judge, there’s a criterion that has to be met in order to go in front of the judge,” said Roberts. “It gives them the opportunity to go and get this certificate then they would be able to present it when they’re looking for employment or housing, this also encompasses certain types of business licenses.”
While a second chance might give an individual fresh options, it will not be available to anyone who was convicted of a serious felony or for sex crimes or crimes where a victim was a minor.
Roberts said he first got the idea for a "second chance" bill for Arizona when he attended a conference in New Orleans where a similar "second chance" bill in Ohio was the subject of a research study conducted by Yale University.
The study consisted of three groups that all sent out job applications, one group without a criminal history, one group with a criminal history and no certificate, and one group with a criminal history and a certificate. The response was gauged on whether or not the individuals received feedback, such as a call for an interview. At the end of the study, the response rate for those with a criminal history had a response rate of about 7% while the group with a criminal history and a certificate had a response rate within 3% of those who had no criminal history at all.
“You literally could triple an individual’s opportunity for employment, to be able to have an income,” said Roberts. “Employment and housing are the top two categories as a reason as to why people recidivate and go back into prison because they can’t get a job or they can’t get housing so they revert to criminal activity, I found it amazing and this just seemed like a tremendous opportunity to help people.”
At the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 11 where the bill was voted on and passed unanimously, Kurt Altman, an Arizona lawyer representing Right on Crime, a group that supports the “second chance bill,” said while the certificate would help previous felons when it comes to finding a job and housing, it is just a one-time thing, not applicable to those who re-offend after receiving the certificate.
“So if somebody is to re-offend for whatever reason, they can’t obtain another certificate and obviously, that certificate is no longer in effect because they’ve reoffended,” said Altman. “It’s a one time chance and we find, and that Yale study will show, most people that have this one time chance, and they have to want to take advantage of it, those that do will be successful.”
One thing a “second chance” certificate will not do is expunge a criminal record. Roberts, who previously worked as a detention officer for the sheriff’s office says that this opportunity is “better all the way around.”
“There are other options out there like expungement and things of that nature but where you run into problems with expungement is, my county attorney, refers to this kind of an issue as state-sponsored deception, where after a certain period of time, somebody can apply to have their history erased of the record,” said Roberts.
Roberts says that though he believes in tough on crime and truth in sentencing, it is not the “end all be all of criminal justice reform,” and says that mental health and substance abuse issues are two contributing factors when it comes to criminal justice.
Roberts represents Legislative District 11, which includes Maricopa, Arizona City, Oracle, Saddlebrooke, Picacho and parts of Casa Grande and Eloy in Pinal County.
He says that the bill is very reasonable and has received the support of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, Right on Crime, the Arizona Association of Counties, Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice, and the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB).
“In comparison to some of the other stuff that’s going through, it’s very reasonable and it has a lot of support so I think it stands a good chance of getting out of the Senate, it’s already out of the House. With all the support that is there, I think it stands a good chance of being signed into law,” said Roberts.
Deja Brumfield is a student in the Walter Cronkite School of Communication at Arizona State University.