Testimony and statement of Juan Cartagena in Support of NJ Senate Bill 2586 & Assembly Bill 3837 The Opportunity to Compete

Testimony of Juan Cartagena in support of New Jersey Senate Bill 2586.

Statement of Juan Cartagena in support of New Jersey Bill 2586 & Assembly Bill 3837, The Opportunity to Compete Act.

LatinoJustice PRLDEF, one of the nation’s leading Latino civil rights organizations, supports the efforts in New Jersey to enact the Opportunity to Compete Act, colloquially known as the Ban-the-Box Act, for providing a second chance to persons in the state with criminal records and for ameliorating some of the discriminatory effects of New Jersey’s criminal justice system. We commend the leadership of Senator Sandra Cunningham, Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson-Coleman, Senator Nellie Pou, Senator Raymond Lesniak, Senator Teresa M. Ruiz, Senator Nia Gill and Senator Brian Stack in Trenton on this matter because it will reduce recidivism, control spiraling incarceration costs, and provide for a humane treatment of this segment of the population. “There are few if any families in New Jersey that are not directly affected by mass imprisonment and the worst, collateral consequences of a broken criminal justice system,” says Juan Cartagena, LJP President & General Counsel. “Banning the box, that is delaying the ultimate question regarding criminal convictions until later in the employment application process, will ensure that employment discrimination on the basis of criminal records is minimized.”

America’s increased reliance on imprisonment has clear impacts on Latino communities and their reintegration into society in ways that the general public and many Latino organizations have yet to fully understand. Throughout the country, and especially urban America, mass incarceration is also a Latino issue. The rate of incarceration in the United States is the highest in the world: reportedly one out of every 100 adults in the U.S and demographically, one in 194 for Whites, one in 29 for Blacks, and one in 64 Latinos. In June 2009 federal, state and local prison data indicated that among men alone, the rate is 1,822 per 100,000 for Hispanics and 702 per 100,000 for non-Hispanic Whites. For women, the rate is 142 per 100,000 for Hispanics and 91 per 100,000 for non-Hispanic Whites.

Nationally, there are significant differences between the types of convictions within Latino communities compared to other groups. Hispanics are twice as likely as whites to be admitted to state prison for a drug related offense. This persists despite Latinos having one of the lowest rates of lifetime illicit drug use at 38.9%, as compared to Whites at 54% and African-Americans at 43.8%.

A focus on America’s incarcerated population provides information only for one segment in the larger pipeline that leads to the incidence of criminal justice histories within the U.S. domestic labor force. National estimates on the number of Americans with criminal history records range from 59 million to 65 million. Close to 30% of the U.S. adult population has a criminal record on file with the states. While estimates are that 600,000 to 700,000 prisoners will be released annually in this decade, representing a fraction of the domestic labor force, they nonetheless equal 30% of the annual growth of the labor force. This is the labor pool that is directly impacted by criminal record checks. Nationally, 18% of all adults on parole are Latino exceeding their share of the national population in the latest census (16.3%). Conversely, 13% of all adults on probation are Latino, which reflects how Latinos are underrepresented among the ranks of persons who avoid prison altogether after conviction.

Hispanic-to-White incarceration ratios from the Bureau of Justice Statistics of the U.S. Department of Justice also reinforce this narrative. National figures mask the concentrated nature of regional and state incarceration rates within Latino communities. The overall Hispanic-to-White incarceration ratio in 2005 for state and local prisoners was 1.8 to one. But the national ratio was exceeded in states with much higher Latino incarceration rates: Connecticut with close to 479,000 Latino residents had a ratio of 6.6 at the high end of the extreme. New Jersey with one and half million Latinos had a ratio of 3.3 to one, still significantly above the national ratio.

The Opportunity to Compete Act (S. 2586 / A. 3837) will undoubtedly lessen the discriminatory effects in employment in the current landscape in New Jersey. Already, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Hawaii, Minnesota, the District of Columbia and Newark, New Jersey have some form of Ban-the-Box laws. A statewide ban is particularly important in New Jersey for two reasons: One, New Jersey provides no limitations on arrest or conviction inquiries and thus allows for the broadest applicability of criminal background checks. By allowing inquiries based merely on arrests, New Jersey is an outlier in this regard. Two, New Jersey has one of the highest proportions of non-violent drug prisoners in the country. “If Ban-the-Box is needed anywhere, it is surely needed in the Garden State. Its adoption in Trenton will provide an equal employment opportunity for thousands of Latinos and African Americans with criminal records, thus contributing to the State’s economy and reduce recidivism. Accordingly it should receive bipartisan support in the State Capitol,” notes Juan Cartagena.


LatinoJustice PRLDEF, established in 1972, has won landmark civil rights cases in education, housing, voting, migrant, immigrant, employment and other civil rights. Through the efforts of LatinoJustice PRLDEF, thousands of Latinos have embarked on careers in the legal profession and have become leaders in their communities.

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