Thursday, July 14, 2011

San Francisco's Latest Oppressed Minority: Ex-Cons

Just when you thought politics in San Francisco couldn't get any more bizarre, we have a report from the Chronicle on a proposal to create a new "protected class" of citizens, who would enjoy legal protection from discrimination by landlords and employers. The new protected class? Ex-convicts.

If the proposal, which is making the rounds at City Hall, is successfully enacted, ex-cons (excluding sex offenders and "some" violent criminals) would join blacks, Latinos, LGBT residents, pregnant women, and the disabled as protected citizens of the city. As a result, landlords would be subjected to litigation if they refused to rent to ex-cons, and employers would be forbidden from asking about criminal histories on job applications. Interestingly, some of the plan's biggest supporters come from the city's law enforcement community, including Sheriff candidate Ross Mirkarimi and former Police Chief George Gascon; with hundreds of prisoners coming back to San Francisco as part of Jerry Brown's realignment plan, advocates view this as an important part of reintegrating them into society.

We have a few questions right off the bat:

1. If someone gets into a fight with an ex-con in San Francisco, will they be prosecuted for a hate crime?

2. Given the high rates of recidivism among California's ex-cons, landlords stand to lose a lot of money on tenants who effectively walk out on their leases when they're sent back to prison. Won't this have the effect of pushing the city's already-astronomical rents even higher?

3. Is it a good idea to prohibit employers from asking potential hires about their criminal histories? We're thinking that financial-services firms in the city should probably avoid hiring people convicted of crimes like fraud and embezzlement, but maybe that's just us.

4. The proposal will supposedly exclude sex offenders and violent criminals from its protections. But what about those who plead guilty to lesser charges rather than face prosecution for more serious crimes?

5. What about the property rights of the business owner or the landlord? (Okay, okay, this one wasn't serious. This is San Francisco, after all.)


  1. We're thinking that financial-services firms in the city should probably avoid hiring people convicted of crimes like fraud and embezzlement

    I'd bet there are state and federal laws forbidding the hiring of such people. Which poison should the employer choose?

    Many businesses must post bonds as a condition of their license (far too many licensed professions in California). If they must hire ex-cons, will the bonding companies still agree to maintain the bonds?

    There is also the matter that these laws never protect the employer from liability created by their mandates. I wonder what the customers of a house-cleaning or plumbing service would think of having convicted thieves in their home?