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Sunday, December 17, 2006

"Convict Quotas" Coming to DC?

Not a joke. DC employers may soon be required to hire ex-cons. From Legal Times (subscription required), December 11:
Ex-convicts would be protected from employment, housing, and educational discrimination as the newest protected class in the D.C. Human Rights Act under a bill the D.C. Council unanimously approved on first reading last week.
Making criminals a protected class. Oh, that's rich. Now DC employers will be vulnerable to lawsuits for not hiring ex-cons. Some interest group (taxpayer-subsidized, most likely) will figure out what percentage of the DC population has ever been convicted of anything, and any employer who doesn't have at least that percentage of ex-cons on his workforce will be vulnerable to discrimination lawsuits. De facto "convict quotas." The lawyers get thirty percent.

Anyone who thinks I am kidding, think again. Members of other "protected classes" bring suits on that basis, and a certain class of trial lawyer (the technical name is 'bottom dweller') is always looking for new reasons to bring lawsuits. If this bill passes and remains in force, "convict quota" lawsuits would not be immediate, but they are probably inevitable.

It gets worse: In an effort to avoid convict quota lawsuits, employers will seek out convicts. Hoping to stay safe and alive themselves -- not to mention avoid lawsuits that may occur should the ex-cons they hire commit crimes while on their clock -- employers will bid hard against one another for the non-violent ex-offenders. Small businesses; businesses just starting up and businesses without much ready cash will be forced to meet their quotas by hiring the folks who come cheapest -- the people who were convicted of violent or otherwise especially loathsome crimes.

Fortunately, day care and elderly care centers are big-margin businesses, so they'll probably be able to afford to bid for the embezzlers and check-bouncers. (Not.)

I wonder which sort of ex-offender will apply for jobs at security firms. Burglars?

At a certain point, it could become profitable for would-be employees to become convicted for a little crime -- something that results in probation, maybe; nothing too inconvenient -- in order to get oneself "protected class" status.

One of the sick jokes about D.C. is how much money former Congressmen can make when they sign up with lobbying firms. The joke is about to get sicker: Ex-lawmakers with criminal records now may even get more.

More details...

From a Legal Times (subscription required) October 30 article by Brendan Smith, we learn the unsurprising name of the sponsor of this unanimously-adopted legislation, and more. I recommend the entire article, which has more detail than copyright law permits me to reprint, but here are excerpts:
D.C. Council member Marion Barry's record of public service spans five decades, yet many people still remember him for that grainy FBI surveillance video showing him inhaling from a crack-cocaine pipe in the Vista Hotel in 1990...

...Barry is now pushing a bill that would add rehabilitated ex-offenders to the already-expansive list of classes protected from employment discrimination under the D.C. Human Rights Act of 1977...

...Five states ban discrimination against ex-offenders by both public and private employers under certain circumstances. But Kenneth Saunders, director of the D.C. Office of Human Rights, says he doesn't know of any state that has added ex-offenders as a protected class under human rights law....

...Barry says many employers, including the D.C. government, discriminate against ex-offenders, in part because some businesses are "myopic in their thinking."

"The way the American justice system is supposed to work is, you've served your time, you've paid your debt to society, and that should be it," he says. "This is a new day in the nation's capital. We're not going to have discrimination of any kind. If you do discriminate, you're going to pay for it..."

...The D.C. Chamber of Commerce, which represents about 2,000 members, has some concerns about creating a human rights class for ex-offenders, but the chamber has not lobbied for or against the bill, says spokesman Chris Knudson...

...Jamie Fellner, U.S. program director of Human Rights Watch, says she supports adding ex-offenders as a protected civil rights class, but Human Rights Watch has not endorsed that position because "it hasn't come up."

"As a practical matter, many people today with criminal records face the same kind of off-the-cuff discrimination that people have faced because of race or sex," she says. "It shadows your life. It's like wearing the brand A on your chest, the scarlet letter..."
Yes, a scarlet letter. One a person pinned on him or herself.

Unbelievable.

Posted by Amy Ridenour at 10:00 PM

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