Justice Involvement and Finding Employment
Employment is one of the primary goals for all individuals with criminal records. Research consistently shows that being employed is essential to achieving success and not reoffending.
The first step to obtaining employment is to get organized before you are released. One resource that you can use to start your journey to employment is called “The Prime Objective. This resource helps job seekers with justice involvement by identifying actions to take before seeking employment; describing important documents to obtain before looking for work; providing information and tips on writing a resume and cover letter; and explaining a variety of reentry documents one can obtain. A downloadable copy of the Prime Objective can be found below.
Record of Arrest and Prosecution (RAP) Sheet
RAP Sheet Basics
A record of arrest and prosecution, also known as a RAP sheet, is a record containing every arrest prosecution and disposition (outcome) that an individual has received. A person will have a RAP sheet if they have ever been arrested and fingerprinted. In New York State, the Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) holds all RAP sheet records. Individuals who are currently incarcerated in New York State facilities can request a no-cost copy of this document at release. If they request a copy of their RAP sheet later, there will be a fee to obtain it from DCJS. The DCJS has instructions to obtain a RAP sheet.
There are two types of RAP sheets:
- Suppressed: This RAP sheet DOES NOT contain information that should be sealed / suppressed.
- Unsuppressed: This RAP sheet contains sealed / suppressed information.
Reasons to Obtain a RAP Sheet
- To know what convictions are on the RAP sheet and which will show up in a background check requested by an employer
- To be prepared to accurately disclose unsealed convictions in a job interview
- To be able to identify and correct errors found on a RAP sheet
- To determine if there is information that shows up on a RAP sheet that should be sealed (e.g., adjudications should always be sealed on a suppressed RAP sheet)
Individuals and Organizations that can Legally Obtain a RAP Sheet
Outside of the individual whose name is on the RAP sheet, there are a limited number of individuals and organizations that can legally obtain a copy of another person’s RAP sheet.
Criminal justice and law enforcement agencies have access to an unsuppressed RAP sheet, which would contain sealed and unsealed information. These organizations include:
- Police Departments
- New York State Parole and Probation Departments
- State and Federal Courts
- New York State Department of Corrections (DOCCS)
- District Attorney Offices
- Defense Attorney Offices
New York State also allows a very limited number of employers to obtain a fingerprint-based RAP sheet as part of their hiring/screening process for all hires. This RAP sheet would contain unsealed information. This includes the following types of organizations:
- Home Health Care Agencies
- Nursing Homes
- School Districts
- Financial Institutions
- Correctional Facilities
- Child Care Agencies
- Fire Houses
- Public Transportation Organizations
- Departments of Sanitation
- U.S. Postal Service
- Branches of the Military
Agencies that hire support staff for schools (e.g., bus drivers, bus attendants), and government agencies (e.g., police, fire, transit, sanitation, postal services) can obtain a copy of a suppressed RAP sheet, which would not contain sealed information.
The final group that can obtain access to information on a RAP sheet are Occupational Licensing Agencies. In New York State there are many occupations (e.g., barber, real estate agent, nurse, taxi driver) that require a state or municipal license to provide the service. When a job seeker applies for a license, the agency that approves the license may have the authority to see if there are any relevant convictions that could be a barrier to obtaining the license. However, it is important to know that most of the time these barriers can be addressed when someone has obtained a Certificate of Rehabilitation.
Requesting a Copy of a New York State RAP Sheet
RAP sheets are requested and obtained through the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) Record Review Unit.
When requesting a RAP sheet, individuals need to identify if they are requesting a suppressed or unsuppressed copy of their RAP sheet. Individuals must obtain a copy of their fingerprints to submit when requesting a RAP sheet. There is a charge for the fingerprints with the company that provides them, and a separate charge for the RAP sheet with DCJS.
Instructions for obtaining fingerprints and requesting a RAP sheet can be found on the DCJS website.
The address and contact information for the DCJS Record Review Unit:
New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services
Record Review Unit
Alfred E. Smith Building
80 South Swan Street
Albany, New York 12210
Email: [email protected]
Phone: (518) 457-9847 or (518) 485-7675
If an individual cannot afford the cost of RAP sheets, a “fee waiver” can be requested. This can happen if an individual submits a notarized financial statement or provides a copy of a public assistance benefits card (e.g., Medicaid or SNAP). Use the email address ([email protected]) to request a copy of the fee waiver application. If the RAP sheet fee is waived by the Division of Criminal Justice Services, the individual will still be responsible for paying for the fingerprints, which as of November 2021 is $13.75
If an individual is financially eligible to receive services at a legal aid office and the office provides reentry services, they may be able to get help obtaining a RAP sheet at no cost. Call ahead to your nearest legal aid office to see if they offer this service.
Understanding What is on a RAP Sheet
Knowing what is on a RAP sheet and ensuring that the information is accurate is also important when looking for employment, disclosing legal history and disputing inaccurate information on a background check. Below are two references to assist with reading and understanding a New York State RAP Sheet.
- Cornell University’s Criminal Justice and Employment Initiative
- Legal Action Center Publication - “Your New York State RAP Sheet: A Guide to Getting, Understanding & Correcting Your Criminal Record”
Attorneys working at Legal Aide Offices that have reentry assistance services may also be able to assist with interpreting and understanding specific items on a RAP sheet.
Correcting Errors on a RAP Sheet
Individuals who have RAP Sheets have the right to challenge the accuracy and completeness of their document if they believe there are errors. Similar to credit reports, RAP sheets often contain mistakes. Some of the most common mistakes include:
- Incorrect information about arrests or convictions (e.g., an incorrect penal code for the conviction)
- A conviction which is documented twice
- A missing disposition (outcome) or dispositions for charges
- An old warrant for arrest that appears to still be open
- Items on the RAP sheet that should be sealed
Many mistakes can be corrected by contacting the jurisdiction in which the crime occurred and asking that correct documentation be send to DCJS regarding the error on the RAP Sheet. (Please note: If you have what appears to be an open warrant error on your RAP sheet you will be arrested if you go in person to a police station). Other errors may be addressed by obtaining a certified copy of the disposition slip from the court that heard the case. The court can send this certified copy directly to DCJS or it can be picked up from the court and then mailed directly to the DCJS Record Review Unit (see the address above).
Legal aid offices with reentry services may be able to assist individuals with correcting errors on RAP sheets at no cost. Individuals must be income eligible for services.
Additional information on correcting specific RAP sheet errors can be found here.
Certificates of Rehabilitation
Certificates of Rehabilitation help to restore rights that are lost due to convictions. A Certificate of Rehabilitation creates a presumption of rehabilitation for a justice-involved individual. Certificates must be considered by businesses when making hiring decisions. If one is obtained, this will be indicated on an individual’s Record of Arrest and Prosecution, or “RAP Sheet.”
There are two different types of Certificates of Rehabilitation:
- Certificate of Relief from Civil Disabilities (CRCD)
- Individuals are eligible for one if they have one felony conviction and any number of misdemeanor convictions
- Individuals can obtain one if they were convicted of a federal offense, an out of state crime or were convicted of a crime in another country
- Individuals are required to apply for separate certificates for each conviction they have
- Certificate of Good Conduct (CGC)
- Individuals are eligible for one if they have two or more felony convictions and any number of misdemeanor convictions
- There is a waiting period to obtain a CGC that begins from the date of release from prison or the date of the last criminal conviction- whichever is more recent. The waiting period is also dependent on the type of felony charge(s) an individual has.
- For A, B and C felonies there is a 5- year waiting period
- For C, D and E felonies there is a 3- year waiting period
- This type of certificate will cover all convictions in one certificate
Instructions for Obtaining a Certificate of Rehabilitation
This section of the website will provide an application and instructions for both certificates and a list of frequently asked questions (FAQs).
The Federal Bonding Program
The Federal Bonding Program is a unique tool to help job applicants who may have one or more barriers to employment to become more attractive to employers. This program provides a free fidelity bond to a business who hires an eligible job seeker. This bond
will cover any loss of money, property, product, or equipment due to employee dishonesty. The bond serves as an incentive to the business to hire a job seeker from one of eight target groups:
- Individuals with poor credit
- Individuals who have declared bankruptcy
- Individuals receiving any form of public assistance benefits
- Individuals with previous felony or misdemeanor convictions
- Individuals in active recovery from alcohol or drug addiction
- Individuals having little or no work history
- Individuals with a dishonorable military discharge
- Youth and young adults who have participated in a state or locally operated summer or year-round youth employment program
The job seeker to be insured must be of legal age for working in New York State and must be paid wages with federal taxes automatically deducted. Both part-time and full-time employment is covered as are people hired into long-term temporary work or temporary to permanent employment. Eligible employees who are already working can be bonded as well. A job seeker must have a job offer and a start date for the Fidelity Bond to be processed.
Additional information on the Federal Bonding Program as well as a list of Local Bonding Coordinators across the state can be found on the New York State Department of Labor website.
Disclosing Unsealed Convictions
In order to be afforded protections under the various laws discussed below, Individuals who have previous unsealed convictions (misdemeanor and felony) in New York State are required to disclose them to an employer, ideally during an interview and before a background check is done. Job seekers should also disclose any current pending legal issues in an interview as well. Disclosure is also required when completing applications for professional licensing. This is extremely important to know because some job applications will not ask about legal history and not all employers will choose to ask questions about previous legal history during an interview.
Remember: businesses and licensing agencies can ask about convictions for criminal offenses during the interview process. What they cannot do, according to Article 23-A of the New York State Correction Law, is deny employment to an applicant unless:
- There is a direct relationship between the person’s conviction and the job or license they are seeking,
- Granting the employment or the license would create an unreasonable risk to property or to the safety and welfare of other employees or the public.
When making hiring or licensing decisions regarding people with previous legal history, an employer or licensing agency must consider each of these factors according to Article 23-A of New York State Correction Law:
- New York State’s public policy which is to encourage the licensure and employment of those with previous criminal convictions
- The specific duties and responsibilities necessary and related to the license or employment the individual is seeking
- The weight that the criminal offense will have on the person’s ability to perform the required job duties
- The length of time since the conviction(s) occurred
- The age of the person when the crime was committed
- The seriousness of the crime
- Any information provided about the person’s rehabilitation and good conduct since the conviction(s)
- The legitimate interest of the public or private licensing agency or employer in protecting their property or the safety and welfare of others.
Please note that, because of the Fair Chance Act, individuals applying for jobs in all boroughs of New York City are NOT required to disclose unsealed convictions until after a conditional offer of employment has been made. After the offer has been made, the applicant can then disclose their unsealed convictions. The employer will then typically proceed with a background check and, if there are any concerns about the individual’s legal background as it relates to the nature of the job, an employer has the right to deny the job offer under Article 23-A of the New York State Corrections Law. The employer is obligated to provide an explanation of why they have denied employment to the job applicant if asked.
Know Your Legal Rights
New York State Correction Law
Article 23-A is part of the New York State Corrections Law, which is meant to promote employment opportunities for individuals who have one or more criminal convictions. The goal of Article 23-A is to provide a “level playing field” for individuals with convictions who are looking for work and to help to reduce recidivism while promoting employment.
A violation of Article 23-A by an employer is considered an unlawful discrimination practice in violation of the New York State Human Rights Law.
New York State Human Rights Law
The New York State Human Rights Law or NYHRL (§296.16) prohibits discrimination due to: age, race, creed, color, national origin, military status, sexual orientation, sex, marital status, gender identity, gender expression, disability, domestic violence victim status, pregnancy-related conditions, predisposing genetic characteristics, prior arrest or conviction record, or retaliation for opposing unlawful discriminatory practices, in employment, licensing, credit, education, obtaining insurance, and purchasing or renting a home or commercial space.
New York State Division of Human Rights
The New York State Division of Human Rights is a New York State agency created to enforce the state's Human Rights Law. The Division is a unit of the New York State Executive Department under New York Executive Law section 293. The head of the Division is the Commissioner, who is appointed by the Governor of New York.
If someone feels they have been discriminated against in any of the areas identified in the Human Rights Law, they can file a complaint with the Division of Human Rights. Once a complaint is filed, the Division of Human Rights will investigate and may present the case in a public hearing.
Arrests, Adjudications, and Sealed Records
During the screening and interview process for employment and licensing, applicants cannot lawfully be asked about: arrests that did not lead to convictions, juvenile or youthful offender adjudications, or sealed records by licensing organizations or businesses interviewing them. Applicants cannot be discriminated against due to any of these situations either.
This also applies to applications for credit and insurance.
Unlawful Interview Questions
Most unlawful interview questions for employment in New York State are related to the topic of arrests, adjudications, and sealed records. Applicants are only obligated to disclose arrests that lead to a conviction. Adjudications and sealed convictions do not need to be disclosed. The following is a list of unlawful questions around these topics.
- Have you ever been arrested?
- How many times have you been arrested?
- Have you ever had an arrest that did not lead to a conviction?
- Did you ever have a youthful offender or juvenile delinquent status arrest?
- Did you ever have an arrest that led to a sealed felony or misdemeanor conviction?
- Have you ever had any arrests that lead to a dismissal of charges?
- Have you ever had an arrest that resulted in an adjudication?
- Do you have any sealed: felonies, misdemeanors, violations, or infractions?
Filing a Discrimination Complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights (DHR
If a job applicant believes that she or he has been unlawfully discriminated against due to having previous legal history a complaint may be filed with the New York State Division of Human Rights. A complaint must be filed with DHR within one year of the alleged employment discrimination. Complaints may also be filed with a Division of Human Rights regional office. A listing of regional offices around the state can be found here.
The following information must be provided when filing a complaint:
- The names, titles, addresses and phone numbers of all persons alleged to have been involved with the discrimination
- Photocopies of any documentation that supports the claim of discrimination
- The names, addresses and phone numbers of any witnesses to the alleged act(s) of discrimination
The division will investigate the complaint filed and will determine whether there is probably caused to believe that unlawful discrimination has occurred. Where probable cause is found, the complaint will be forwarded to an administrative law judge to conduct a public hearing. After the hearing, the administrative law judge will make a recommendation to the Commissioner of Human Rights. The Commissioner will issue a final order in the matter and, if discrimination is found to have occurred, may order appropriate damages and other relief to the individual filing the claim.
Be aware that the Division of Human rights can only accept complaints of employment or licensing discrimination for private employers and entities. If an individual is claiming discrimination by a public employer or licensing bureau/agency- it is best to contact an attorney on the matter and bring an action directly in state court. The civil law practices of Legal Aid Services can be contacted in this situation.
Requesting Information from the Employer Before Filing a Complaint
There is an important step that can be taken by a justice-involved job seeker prior to filing a complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights Office. If a specific job or license was denied by a business or licensing agency, particularly if the job offer was made and later rescinded by the business based on information received in a background check, the applicant has the right to request additional information:
- The job applicant has the right to ask the business or agency why the hiring or granting of the license was denied. This will help to determine if the nature of the individual’s legal history is a barrier or if the decision was based on incorrect information found in a background check. This is best done in a letter format. The business/agency has up to 30 days to respond to the applicant in writing.
- If the business/agency does not respond to this inquiry or when responding does not appear to cite any of the hiring considerations outlined in Article 23A of the New York State Correction Law, the job seeker may choose to raise a discrimination complaint with the Division of Human Rights.
- If the denial of employment of a license was made by a public employer or agency- without good cause- an attorney should be consulted.