Possible legislation under consideration in San Francisco would provide convicted felons with more rights to housing and jobs, perhaps affording them a protected-class status usually reserved for disadvantaged groups based on gender or ethnicity.
Landlords and employers could end up being required to look further into criminal histories before ruling out released convicts.
The idea came from The City’s Reentry Council, a 23-member body that includes representatives of the Mayor’s Office, Police and Sheriff’s departments, District Attorney and Public Defender’s offices, the Adult and Juvenile Probation departments, and a variety of other law enforcement and social services agencies. Policy Director Jessica Flintoft said the council unanimously recommended in March that such legislation be developed.
The City’s Human Rights Commission will explore the concept this month in two public meetings. The discussions will come as the state moves forward with a plan to release thousands of inmates from the overburdened prison system.
Human Rights Commission Director Theresa Sparks characterized the effort as a public safety issue and said more access for felons to mainstream society could cut the recidivism rate in half.
“If they cannot find housing and cannot find a job, they probably will recommit,” Sparks said.
Flintoft said any legislation would be unlikely to require landlords and employers to hire felons, but that ex-cons might be able to claim discrimination if they are ruled out based on a simple determination of their criminal history. She said hiring decisions should be based on whether the past crimes relate directly to housing or holding a job.
“They could still run a background check,” Flintoft said. “The difference is really to have them do much more, like the city of San Francisco has done for the last five years — not ask about criminal background up front.”
While reducing the recidivism rate is the primary concern of the idea’s supporters, that worries landlords, including Noni Richen, president of the Small Property Owners of San Francisco Institute.
“It’s part of a person’s rent worthiness, and it’s not something innate to a person, like skin color or gender,” Richen said. “They made a choice to do something, and we as small-property owners can’t be made responsible for rehabilitating people.”
David Miree, policy coordinator for the Human Rights Commission, said the effort is still in the “embryonic development review stages.”
“They have paid their debt to society,” Miree said. “Yes, they have made a mistake, but here they are back in the general population. They will need housing and they will need jobs.”
Where to be heard
Public meetings scheduled to discuss legislation on felon re-entry.
Wednesday, 4 to 7 p.m.
City Hall, Room 263
July 25, 4 to 7 p.m.
City Hall, Room 400