Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Douglas F. Gansler on Tuesday threw his support behind legislation in Annapolis that would shield some criminal convictions from background searches as a way to put more ex-offenders to work and reduce Maryland's recidivism rate.
Gansler said the state's recidivism rate is 46 percent, and state leaders should be doing more to offer opportunities for ex-offenders to enter the workforce.
The legislation, "Maryland Second Chance Act," would shield 13 non-violent misdemeanor convictions from background searchers, including disturbing the peace, disorderly conduct, possession of small amounts of marijuana and prostitution. Law enforcement, court officials and certain employers, such as daycare centers and private security firms, would continue to have access to full criminal backgrounds.
"This is not information that's relevant to an employer — like driving without a license, possessing marijuana 5, 6, 7 years ago," Gansler said. "We're hopeful this is one more step to ... close the revolving door and take people from being incarcerated to being taxpaying citizens."
Sen. Jamie Raskin, a Montgomery County Democrat, said the legislation has strong support. Several prosecutors testified in favor of the bill at a Senate hearing Tuesday.
"America is the land of second chances and the country itself was born as a second chance to start over," Raskin said.
Gansler toured the Community Kitchen, an initiative by the Episcopal Community Services that provides culinary training for at-risk individuals, including ex-offenders. Derek Neal, who runs the program, said without opportunities for work and an ability to support themselves, individuals will continue to commit crimes.
"It doesn't just affect the people who are coming home from jail," Neal said. "It affects everybody in the community. If we can't support these people in terms of giving them an adequate chance, then we will have to, as a society, pay the price."