September 23, 2019

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A Second Chance for Christal—but Occupational Barriers Persist

2/21/2019

This morning, the Washington Supreme Court stood up for a second chance for Christal Fields, who was wrongfully denied the opportunity to work in her chosen field because of a 30-year-old conviction.

 

Christal was successfully working in childcare when the Department of Early Learning conducted a background check, found a decades-old conviction for attempted robbery, and swiftly disqualified her from her work. She went from thriving in a profession she loved to being banned from it for life — all because of a conviction for which she had long ago paid the price.

 

We stood with Christal as she challenged this unfair barrier to success for herself and other women who have been incarcerated. And today, the Washington Supreme Court agreed that it was unconstitutional for the Department to deny Christal the opportunity to work in childcare based solely on her conviction, meaning she gets another chance to prove she is qualified for this work!

 

We're thrilled for Christal. But the Court's decision doesn't go far enough: it still upholds the troubling regulation that was used to deny Christal's rights in the first place. While the Court required that the Department look at these denials on a case-by-case basis, the regulation still creates an unjust barrier between formerly incarcerated people and economic stability.

 

As we argued in our brief, these regulations uphold and perpetuate systemic racism that has resulted in mass and disproportionate incarceration of people of color, which acutely impacts African American women like Christal. Restrictions on what kind of work a formerly incarcerated woman can do only further closes the door to stability for her, her family, and her community. And what's more, the lack of adequate employment often leads to recidivism, or a relapse into criminal behavior.

 

That's why we'll keep fighting to dismantle the systemic barriers that keep formerly incarcerated people from reaching their full potential. From supporting "ban the box" laws to challenging overly harsh employment regulations, we'll follow the lead of formerly incarcerated people and their advocates to change the system for good.

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