Second Chances

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One in four Americans has a criminal record, and a criminal record can be a big obstacle to housing and employment. The ACLU of Washington's Second Chances Project provides direct legal services to individuals who want to reduce the barriers posed by criminal records. We also provide resources and community education on criminal records issues.


Criminal records have far-reaching consequences for individuals, and are easier to obtain than ever. Most employers and housing providers conduct background checks on prospective applicants, and many reject anyone with a criminal history. For a few dollars, and in a few minutes, employers and housing providers can get information about every time a person has been arrested, even for minor crimes.

Over the past few years, numerous people have called the ACLU to report being denied jobs or housing on account of criminal records, even when those people have completely reformed their lives. For example, one ACLU client was fired after a background check revealed a crime that occurred over 30 years ago. Another has been denied more than 20 rental apartments because of a minor misdemeanor that occurred 8 years ago. Though these practices violate federal anti-discrimination law, they appear widespread.

Denying jobs and housing to people with criminal records denies them the opportunity to work hard, support their families, and rebuild their lives. It disproportionately impacts people of color, who are arrested, charged, and convicted at higher rates than Caucasians. It also increases the risk that people will re-offend, and thereby decreases community safety.


For Individuals with Criminal Records

What should I know before applying for jobs and housing?

Can I clear my criminal record?

What should I do if I've been wrongly denied a job or home based on my record?


For Employment and Housing Counselors

How can I assist individuals with criminal records who are looking for housing or jobs?

How can the ACLU help me?


For Employers and Landlords

What should I do when I run a background check on an applicant?

How should I consider applicants with criminal records?

Additional Resources

For more information, please refer to these publications: