Employers in New Mexico can no longer ask people on their applications if they have been convicted of a crime, thanks to Senate Bill 96, also known as the “Ban the Box” law.
The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico’s Smart Justice team held a legislative update session in Chimayó at Barrios Unidos June 15 and explained criminal justice reforms passed during this year’s legislative session.
“I founded Barrios (Unidos),” Lupe Salazar said during her introduction. “With every fiber, with every breath in me I desire to make a change in my community.”
Salazar said part of making that change was working with groups like the ACLU, to educate and continue discussions surrounding issues that affect the community.
“Ban the Box, that’s an important bill because it allows people to get their foot in the door, when applying for a job,” ACLU Smart Justice Coordinator Barron Jones said. “This means that employers can no longer ask people as of (June 10) if they’ve been convicted of a felony on their application.”
Employers will still be able to ask applicants about their criminal history during job interviews, but at that point, applicants have the ability to advocate for themselves, and explain the situation, Jones said.
The change applies to online and paper applications, the bill states.
In addition to the changes to employment applications, Jones highlighted a number of other changes that have or will soon take effect in New Mexico, including the expungement of criminal records and solitary confinement reform.
Solitary confinement reform includes changes to when people in jails and prisons can be held in what is termed “restricted housing,” where they spend 22 or more hours per day locked in a cell.
The new law prohibits jails and prisons from placing children under 18 years old or pregnant women in solitary confinement. The bill helps bring the state closer to the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, also known as the Nelson Mandela Rules, which were unanimously adopted by the U.N. in December 2015.
In the United States, there are approximately 54,000 children living in state, federal, and county juvenile and adult jails and facilities, a February 2019 ACLU report states. According to the ACLU, children who are placed in solitary confinement are more likely to attempt suicide and commit additional crimes after they are released.
“(Solitary confinement) poses an even greater harm to women who are pregnant,” the report states. “Pregnant women housed in these conditions can face even greater risks of stress, depression, infection, miscarriage, premature labor and postpartum depression.”
One key provision of solitary confinement reform is the requirement that every three months jails and prisons whether state, county or privately-owned must create a report that details the use of restrictive confinement.
The report must include detailed information such as how long a person was confined in an isolated environment, and the reasons for their placement.
Additional parts of the law include rules for using solitary confinement for people that have serious mental disabilities, but those will not take effect until July 2020. The other provisions of the law take effect July 1.
Another law, the Expungement of Criminal Records Act, will take effect in January 2020 and will allow people who have been convicted of certain crimes to petition the court to have those convictions legally removed from their record and sealed. It will also allow successful petitioners to truthfully answer negatively when asked by employers if they have been convicted of a crime. In essence, once expunged, it’s as if the conviction never happened, Jones said.
Law enforcement and certain government entities will still be able to access the information, he said, and only some convictions are eligible for expungement.
The ACLU plans to host workshops to help people navigate the changes when the new law takes effect, Jones said.