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After public hearings and consideration of testimony and documentary evidence, the Board of Supervisors finds and declares that the health, safety, and well-being of San Francisco's communities depend on increasing access to employment and housing opportunities for people with arrest or conviction records in order for them to effectively reintegrate into the community and provide for their families and themselves. Barriers to these opportunities for people with arrest or conviction records increase recidivism and thereby jeopardize the safety of the public, disrupt the financial and overall stability of affected families and of our communities, and impede the City's achieving its maximum potential of economic growth. Further, establishing procedures for the lawful use of criminal history information in employment and housing decisions can assist employers and housing providers by preventing the automatic exclusion of individuals who may be qualified, and in some cases well-qualified, employees or tenants.
In San Francisco, as across the country, individuals are often plagued by old or minor arrest or conviction records that discourage them from applying for jobs or housing because a "box" on the application requires disclosure of criminal history information that likely will automatically exclude them from consideration. Precise statistics in this area are difficult to come by, but by any measure the problem is major, affecting a large number of individuals and families. By one measure, some sixty-five million Americans have a criminal record that may show up on a routine background check report. In California, it has been estimated that almost one in four adults have arrest or conviction records. Many thousands of people in our local community are directly impacted by barriers to reintegration based on these records.
In today's digital age, there has been widespread proliferation in the use of criminal background checks, with hundreds of companies offering over the internet low-cost criminal background checks. Surveys have shown that as many as ninety percent of employers and eighty percent of private housing providers conduct background checks. And the information that such background checks may yield can have a devastating impact on the employment and housing opportunities of persons with a criminal history, with damaging spillover effects on families and communities. One study found that two-thirds of employers surveyed in five major U.S. cities would not knowingly hire a person with a criminal record, regardless of the offense. Another study found that a criminal record reduces the likelihood of a job callback or offer by nearly fifty percent. Among those seeking assistance from the San Francisco Public Defender's Clean Slate program, a pool of individuals with a criminal record, only about one-third are employed, and the majority of those employed earn an annual income of $3,000 or less.
The problems presented by employers and housing providers who use a person's criminal history to deny that person employment or housing opportunities are growing rather than diminishing. In response to this challenge, more than fifty cities and counties in the United States have adopted policies that to one degree or another regulate the inquiry into an individual's criminal history, at least as to individuals employed by those localities. Eleven of those localities apply their policies to those who contract with them. The cities of Philadelphia, Newark, Seattle, and Buffalo have applied their policies to all private employers within their boundaries. At the state level, ten states have adopted policies to address this challenge and four states – Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Rhode Island – have applied their policies to private employers. The economic rationale often cited for these reforms is to maximize the pool of talented, qualified workers for employers and to fully utilize the productive capacity of people with prior arrests or convictions, for the improvement of the economy.
Regulating inquiries into an individual's criminal history is gaining traction as one facet of the nationwide effort to reduce the recidivism that leads to serial incarceration. A major rationale for this movement is the growing awareness that incarceration has devastating socioeconomic consequences. Researchers have found that more incarceration has the perverse effect of increasing the crime rate in some communities. Children suffer academically and socially, and have decreased economic mobility, after the incarceration of a parent. Incarceration is also linked to homelessness, impacting public health and safety. Twenty-six percent of homeless people surveyed in San Francisco had been incarcerated within the previous twelve months, and an estimated thirty to fifty percent of parolees in San Francisco are homeless.
On October 1, 2011, San Francisco and the rest of California implemented AB 109, a "Realignment" of California's criminal justice system, which seeks to produce budgetary savings by reducing recidivism and promoting rehabilitation. As stated by Governor Edmund G. Brown, Jr. in signing AB 109, cycling people through the revolving door of "state prisons wastes money, aggravates crowded conditions, thwarts rehabilitation, and impedes local law enforcement supervision." Added by AB 109, Section 3451 of the California Penal Code states that counties must focus on alternatives to incarceration that have a proven track record of reducing recidivism. Moreover, Section 17.5 of the Penal Code states that criminal justice policies that rely on building and operating more prisons to address community safety concerns are not sustainable, and will not result in improved public safety. Removing unnecessary obstacles to employment and housing that impede reintegration and rehabilitation supports the goals for "Realignment."
Lack of employment and housing are significant causes of recidivism; people who are employed and have stable housing are significantly less likely to be re-arrested. For example, one study of 1,600 individuals recently released from prison in Illinois found that only eight percent of those who were employed for a year committed another crime, compared to the state's average recidivism rate of fifty-four percent. In another study, researchers found that from 1992 to 1997, the slightly more than forty percent of the decline in the overall property crime rate could be attributed to the thirty-three percent decline in the unemployment rate during the same period. Still another study in New York reported that a person without stable housing was seven times more likely to re-offend after returning from prison. There is little doubt that a policy designed to improve the employment and housing prospects of persons with arrest or conviction history will enhance their prospects for becoming productive members of the community, and thereby benefitting all of us.
Policies that encourage reintegration and reduce recidivism can also help reduce criminal justice costs. The Legislative Analyst Office estimated that in 2005-2006, counties in California spent on average about $28,000 per year to incarcerate an adult in jail and about $1,250 per year to supervise an adult on probation in the community. One study estimated that in terms of court, prosecution, and law enforcement costs, the County spends an average of $16,379 to process a person who has committed a drug offense through the criminal justice system. When a person successfully reintegrates and does not return to the criminal justice system, these costs are avoided, allowing scarce public dollars to be reinvested in programs that make our communities stronger and safer.
Not only is it a matter of public safety to ensure that workers have job and housing opportunities, but it is also critical for a stable economy. Economists at the Center for Economic and Policy Research used Bureau of Justice Statistics data to estimate that in 2008, the United States had between 12 and 14 million formerly incarcerated people and people with felonies of working age. Citing this population's greatly reduced job prospects, the researchers estimated that the total male employment that year was reduced by 1.5 to 1.7 percentage points and that the cost to the U.S. economy was between $57 and $65 billion in lost output.
The expansion of the criminal justice system and all of its attendant consequences described herein, coupled with the growth of the for-profit criminal background check industry, has created a need for local regulations on the use of arrest and conviction records. On March 29, 2011, the Reentry Council of the City & County of San Francisco, chaired by the Chief Adult Probation Officer, and comprised of that official and the District Attorney, Mayor, Public Defender, and Sheriff urged the enactment of an ordinance to reduce unnecessary barriers to housing and employment for individuals based on arrest or conviction records. This Article is an important part of implementing that general recommendation.
But there are some senses in which this Article is of limited scope. This Article does not intend, and shall not be construed, to require an employer to give preference to anyone or to hire an unqualified person with an arrest or conviction record. Nor does it require a housing provider to give preference to anyone or to rent to an unqualified tenant with an arrest or conviction record. Moreover, this Article shall not be construed to limit an employer or a housing provider's ability to choose the most qualified and appropriate candidate from applicants for employment or housing.
(Added by Ord. 17-14 , File No. 131192, App. 2/14/2014, Eff. 3/16/2014, Oper. 8/13/2014)
(Former Sec. 4902 added by Ord. 176-13, File No. 130661, App. 7/31/2013, Eff. 8/30/2013; expired 9/30/2013)
(Former Sec. 4902 added by Ord. 61-01, File No. 002197, App. 4/20/2001; repealed by Ord. 234-06, File No. 060892, App. 9/14/2006)