At a time of coronavirus shutdowns, all businesses are in trouble. Those belonging to former prisoners may receive even less help.
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A few days ago, I got a call from Scott Jennings, another board member of Inmates to Entrepreneurs, who got excited after reading the recent Small Business Administration business loan application.
Scott, who served a prison sentence years ago, is now a very successful entrepreneur. Like many other entrepreneurs, he has worked very hard to start a new life, and his business has been heavily impacted by the novel coronavirus crisis. But the SBA’s loan application intended to keep small business owners afloat discriminates against former criminals.
Despite the progress made in criminal justice reform, finding a job remains one of the most difficult challenges for former prisoners.
The CARES law, which is supposed to give relief to all business owners, including former criminals, shouldn’t make it harder to stay alive during this time of foreclosure and potential layoffs – it’s tough enough.
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The law includes a provision to make $ 350 billion in loans available to small businesses through the SBA. The loans are intended to help businesses, like Scott’s, and their employees. In the loan application, two questions immediately caught his attention:
“Is the plaintiff (if it is an individual) or any person holding 20% or more of the plaintiff’s equity the subject of an indictment, criminal investigation, an indictment or other means by which formal criminal charges are laid in a jurisdiction, or currently incarcerated, or on probation or parole? “
“In the past five years, for any crime, the plaintiff (if an individual) or any owner of the plaintiff 1) has been convicted; 2) pleaded guilty; 3) pleaded nolo pretendere; 4) was placed on pre-trial diversion; or 5) was placed on some form of parole or probation (including pretrial probation)? ”
The timing of such questions in a loan application is suspect at best.
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While it is true that this is similar to the language that existed before the pandemic, it calls into question the fairness of the issues themselves and whether it is fair to exclude relief from people who were previously judicially involved.
In the worst case, these questions will lead to discrimination against those judicially involved. At best, which is more subtle and probably more important and widespread, the language here will discourage many people with criminal records from applying.
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In our discussion of the app, Scott noted, “I wasn’t exactly a model citizen. I have committed a crime. I went to prison for three years and now I have changed all aspects of my life and my role in society. I have owned a successful business for nine years. Like any other business owner, I have families who depend on me.
Although Scott’s business may be eligible for a stimulus loan since his charges are not recent, many people like him will not.
Most people agree that if people commit a crime, they should be required to give something back to society; they should be punished. But people shouldn’t be serving life sentences because of stigma or discrimination that basically relegates them to life imprisonment, even for minor offenses.
Brian Hamilton is the founder of Inmates to Entrepreneurs and the Brian Hamilton Foundation, two national organizations that help small businesses.