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NC needs to remove hurdles that keep former offenders from finding jobs, advocates say

Credit: iStock

by Lynn Bonner, NC Newsline
May 1, 2024

A record of incarceration can prevent people from landing apartments or jobs. People who have been arrested but never convicted can have a hard time shaking that history when their mugshots appear forever online. 

Advocates want previously incarcerated people to be able to rebound without the millstones of past mistakes acting as a constant drag. 

“Currently, we make life very difficult for people coming out of the justice system — more difficult than most of us can even imagine,” Sen. Julie Mayfield, a Democrat from Buncombe County, said at a news conference Tuesday. 

“These folks face discrimination in jobs and housing. They may face fines and fees that begin accruing often when they are in jail or prison and quickly become unmanageable,” she said. “We then allow garnishment of hard-earned wages to help pay those fines and fees, keeping people in poverty.”

Advocates called for passage of “Second Chance” bills that would help former offenders more easily engage in community life.  

On their list is a bill that removes driver’s license revocation as punishment for missed court dates or overdue fines. 

Another would restart the automatic record expungements the legislature approved in 2020 but were paused months later and have now been on hold for nearly two years. 

Senate Bill 565 restarts automatic expungements and makes fixes to the original law that triggered the pause, said Whitley Carpenter of Forward Justice. The Senate passed the bill unanimously last April, but the House has not debated it.  Whitley Carpenter of Forward Justice speaks at “Second Chance” news conference Tuesday.

Philip Cooper, head of Operation Gateway, said people who have never been convicted are being punished as they find careers closed off to them even when charges have been dismissed. 

“If we want to be able to have a job with upward mobility so that we can take care of our families, so that we can own a home, so that we can go to our kids’ soccer games, so that we can go to community events and afford the opportunity to participate in the economic mainstream, then we have to see this issue with expunctions as an economic issue,” Cooper said. 

House Bill 778 would prevent law enforcement offices from sending mugshots to “publish-for-pay” tabloids or websites, and would prohibit those publications from charging people to remove their photographs. The bill would require publications to remove and destroy mugshots of people cleared of charges. 

It’s difficult to reconcile the concept of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ with the gas station publications and “click-bait websites” that display mugshots no matter the charges, said Rep. Terry Brown, a Mecklenburg Democrat. It’s even more difficult when websites tell people to pay if they want their mugshot removed. 

“The publication of these mugshots is for no other reason than to dehumanize and exploit people to make a spectacle, and to charge a fee to remove them from the websites,” he said. 

Mugshots depict people at their worst moments, said Micah Hayes of Operation Gateway. An arrest doesn’t make a person a criminal, but “the mugshot itself automatically criminalizes a person.” 

Hayes said a Google search will produce information about his community involvement. It will also bring up an image of his bruised and bloodied face in his mugshot. 

“I don’t think that this just affects me,” he said. It also affects his family “financially, emotionally, and generationally,” Hayes said. North Carolinians from across the state gathered for the Second Chance lobby day at the NC General Assembly. (Photo: Clayton Henkel)

NC Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. NC Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Rob Schofield for questions: Follow NC Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.