The Amara Legal Center showed its strong support for the Fair Criminal Record Screening for Housing Act of 2016 (Bill 21-0706) by submitting written testimony for inclusion as part of the official record of a public hearing on July 11, 2016 led by D.C. Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie. Nearly twenty public witnesses testified in support of this bill, including representatives from Amara’s partner organization HIPS, various other local non-profit groups, and several returning citizens. While the overall message was largely in support of the spirit of the bill recognizing the key role that securing housing plays in reducing recidivism rates, many of the witnesses suggested ways to tighten the bill and better insure that criminal history is not used to discriminate against qualified housing applicants.

Initially co-introduced by Councilmembers McDuffie and Anita Bonds in April 2016, Bill 21-0706 was largely based upon the Fair Criminal Record Screening Amendment Act of 2014 which was implemented to remove barriers to securing employment based on one’s criminal history. Like our colleagues in other advocacy groups, Amara supports the spirit of Bill 21-0706 just as we supported the 2014 Fair Criminal Record Screening Amendment Act. The new bill, if passed, will enhance the likelihood that our clients, over 90% of whom have criminal records, will not be discriminated against when seeking safe and stable housing. However, even with both of these laws in place, our clients will continue to be stigmatized by potential employers and housing providers until D.C. passes a vacatur statute that will allow for overturning criminal convictions and destroying criminal records upon proof that past crimes were committed as a result of the force, fraud or coercion of human trafficking. That is why Amara will continue to lobby the D.C. Council to join nearly 30 states and pass a vacatur statute that will properly acknowledge that survivors should have never been charged with crimes they were forced to commit in the first place.

For the full written testimony Amara submitted in support of Bill 21-0706, click here.

By Peter Lucas-Robert
Peter Lucas-Roberts is a rising third year law student at The George Washington University Law School. He has advocated on behalf of survivors of human trafficking, prisoners of conscience and the falsely accused since 2010 and hopes to continue to do so in his future legal career.