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Rhode Island lawmakers recently heard testimony on a bill that would prohibit employers from asking job applicants if they have ever been convicted of a crime.
The so-called "ban-the-box" legislation would bar employers from asking about a conviction history until "after making a conditional offer of employment" or "determining that an applicant is a finalist."
Advocates for the bill, calling themselves Ban the Box RI, posted a six-minute film on YouTube supporting the legislation. It includes people who are identified only by their first names talking about how they had difficulty finding jobs after serving time in prison.
State legislators and other officials who sponsored or support the proposal also make appearances.
And A.T. Wall, the director of the Rhode Island Department of Corrections, appears and speaks in the film, although he told The Providence Journal after the film was released that he has taken no position on the bill.
In the film, Wall describes what prisoners need to succeed when they re-enter society, noting the most important is employment. As he is speaking, a written statement appears on screen: "In Rhode Island, 28 percent of adults released from state prisons are re-incarcerated within a year."
We wanted to see if that figure is accurate. Emmett FitzGerald, who helped make the movie, referred us to a Department of Corrections annual report.
The department’s 2012 annual population report states that 3,387 offenders were released in calendar year 2009, a release group whose post-release statistics are being compiled over three years. "Within 1 year of release 28% of offenders returned to RIDOC with a new sentence," the report says.
PolitiFact Rhode Island also checked directly with the Department of Corrections to verify the number. Susan Lamkins, programming services officer, responded with a January 2013 document that said 31 percent of offenders released in 2009 returned to the state prisons under a new sentence within one year of release.
Lamkins explained the difference in an e-mail: "Due to a slight change in methodology these numbers were updated in January to reflect the correct return rate percentage."
Whichever percentage one uses, both include parole and probation violators. The figures do not account for offenders who were released and later arrested on a new charge but were still awaiting trial.
The Department of Corrections also provided in its report some comparison rates from four other New England states, but they were for different, and longer, periods after initial release from prison.
Connecticut, for instance, had a 47-percent rate of offenders returning to prison within two years of release. (In Rhode Island, 42 percent returned to prison within 24 months of initially being released.)
Other figures the Department of Corrections report cited were 43 percent for Massachusetts, 44.2 percent for New Hampshire and 52 percent for Vermont, but those were return-to-prison rates within three years of release. Rhode Island did not publish a three-year statistic. Year-three rates for the 2009 release group are slated to be published in the early summer, according to Lamkins.
The group Ban the Box RI, in its video says that "in Rhode Island, 28 percent of adults released from state prisons are re-incarcerated within a year."
That was an accurate citation of a Department of Corrections figure at the time.
The figure was revised to 31 percent -- close enough for us to rule True.
(If you have a claim you’d like PolitiFact Rhode Island to check, e-mail us at [email protected]. And follow us on Twitter: @politifactri.)
YouTube.com, "Beyond the Box: The Ban the Box Movement in Rhode Island," posted March 20, 2013, accessed on April 9, 2013
E-mails, Emmett FitzGerald, video a producer of the video, April 9-10, 2013
E-mails, Susan Lamkins, programming services officer, Rhode Island Department of Corrections, April 9-11, 2013
The Providence Journal, "Criminal past question sparks renewed debate," March 21, 2013, and "Ban the Box Video Circulates," March 28, 2013
DOC.RI.gov, "Fiscal Year 2012 Annual Population Report," Page 22, release data, recidivism, Rhode Island Department of Corrections Planning and Research Unit, and "2009 Recidivism Study: Two-Year Follow-up," Rhode Island Department of Corrections, January 2013, both accessed on April 9-10, 2013
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