The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey strongly supports the Opportunity to Compete Act, a bill that could help thousands upon thousands in our state fulfill their dreams of a better life. Just yesterday, June 13, 2013, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission declared the use of criminal background checks a proxy for discrimination in employment, the first ruling of its kind. Clearly, the Opportunity to Compete Act could not come at a more dire time.

In an already poor job market, a candidate with a criminal record finds all doors closed. The racial disparities in the criminal justice system bear some responsibility for the high unemployment rate among people of color. By giving people who deserve a second chance a modicum of power in their job search, this legislation could eliminate some of the back-door racial and ethnic discrimination people with criminal records face on a daily basis.

Our society holds up a double standard for people with criminal records, asking them to rehabilitate themselves but placing obstacles in front of them every step of the way. Someone with a criminal history lives with the ever-present anxiety that a disclosure of their past could eclipse all of their other merits, and they brace themselves for rejection.

For countless people in New Jersey, this legislation could mean a future where their merits, and not their mistakes from the past, determine their potential. We hope the New Jersey Legislature will give people who want to become contributing members of society the chance to follow that path unhindered.