My Two Census

Formerly the non-partisan watchdog of the 2010 US Census, and currently an opinion blog that covers all things political, media, foreign policy, globalization, and culture…but sometimes returning to its census/demographics roots.

Posts Tagged ‘felons’

FYI: http://www.censusdiscriminationlawsuit.com/

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

The above site provides details about the recent class action hiring lawsuit. Ah, America’s lawyers embracing technology to make a quick buck. Love it.

New York Times Editorial Criticizes Census Bureau Hiring

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

The following New York Times editorial concerns the class action lawsuit that we reported on last week. For many months now, MyTwoCensus.com has criticized 2010 Census hiring practices. Here’s the editorial:

The Census Bureau is hiring a million or more people to assist with the 2010 count. It is temporary work, but it pays well. With national unemployment at nearly 10 percent, it looks like an excellent opportunity. That is unless you are one of the nearly 50 million Americans with any arrest or conviction on record.

A new class-action lawsuit has been filed on behalf of applicants who say they were unfairly turned down for census jobs based on an opaque screening policy that relies on F.B.I. checks for any criminal histories. Those checks are notoriously unreliable. A 2006 federal report found that half of them were inaccurate or out of date.

The Census Bureau is vague about what makes someone ineligible. In Congressional testimony, it suggested that it is excluding people who have been convicted of crimes involving violence and dishonesty. The bureau’s Web site seems to say that applicants whose background checks turn up any arrest — no matter how trivial, distant in time, irrelevant to the job — receive a letter advising them that they can remain eligible only if they produce “official court documentation” bearing on the case within 30 days. Incredibly, the letter does not identify the alleged criminal activity. Applicants must prove eligibility, even if they don’t know why they were flagged.

Official court records are often unobtainable for the millions of people whose convictions have been sealed or expunged or for people who have been arrested and released because of lack of evidence or mistaken arrest. This problem falls heaviest on black and Hispanic communities where stop-and-frisk policies and indiscriminate arrests are common.

The hiring problem is not limited to the Census Bureau. After 9/11, Congress required port workers to undergo F.B.I. background checks to keep their jobs. Last year, a study by the National Employment Law Project, an advocacy group for workers, found that the government had mistakenly denied credentials to tens of thousands of those workers.

States and cities are wisely revising employment policies. The federal government needs to develop a fair and transparent screening system for job applicants and a more effective appeals process. Congress must also require the F.B.I. to verify the criminal records — and find missing data before issuing background checks.

Does this lawsuit against the Census Bureau have legitimacy? Perhaps

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

H/t to former MyTwoCensus editor Emily Babay for informing me of the following lawsuit filed against the Census Bureau for its hiring practices. The Philadelphia Inquirer brings us the following:

Phila. woman at center of census lawsuit

By Jane M. Von Bergen

Paying $17.75 an hour, U.S. Census jobs, though temporary, are attractive in an economy where unemployment is stuck at 9.7 percent. But the Census Bureau’s screening policies, designed to safeguard the public, end up discriminating against minorities, according to a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday.

That’s because the bureau has set up an “arbitrary barrier to employment” for any person with an arrest record, “no matter how trivial or disconnected from the requirements of the job,” the lawsuit, filed in Manhattan, says. U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke is named as the defendant.

The national suit, filed by Outten & Golden L.L.P. in New York and a coalition of public-interest organizations, seeks class-action status on behalf of those turned down for a job if they were arrested and not convicted, or convicted for an offense irrelevant to the job.

“The U.S. Census Bureau’s top priority is the safety of both our workforce and the American public,” Commerce Department spokesman Nicholas Kimball responded. “Americans must be confident that, if . . . a census taker must come to their door to count them, we’ve taken steps to ensure their safety.”

Kimball declined to comment on the suit.

One of the two lead plaintiffs, Evelyn Houser, 69, of North Philadelphia, thinks she is qualified to fill one of the 1.2 million census positions. That’s because Houser worked for the census before, in 1990.

“What’s the difference between then and now?” she asked in an interview Tuesday. “It’s like a slap in the face.”

The difference, said her lawyer, Sharon Dietrich with Community Legal Services in Philadelphia, is the government’s cumbersome screening process.

Computers kick back any application with an arrest record, requiring more documentation, but the Census Bureau doesn’t make it clear what documentation is required, Dietrich said.

The discrimination occurs because the arrest and conviction rates of African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans exceed those of whites, the suit says. Compounding the problem, it says, is that one in three arrests do not lead to prosecution or conviction, yet the bureau’s system does not readily distinguish between arrests and convictions.

“The processes are screening out any kind of criminal case, no matter what,” Dietrich said.

“If you were arrested years ago for a minor offense, you are asked to comply with the same burdensome process as if you had been released from jail last week after committing a murder,” she said,

Plaintiffs’ attorney Samuel Miller, of Outten & Golden, estimates that as many as one million applicants may have been caught up in the process, with tens of thousands unfairly deterred or excluded from employment.

In 1981, Houser was a 39-year-old mother raising four children on welfare and food stamps. Her monthly check was several days away, but she was out of food when, going outside to take out the trash, she found a check next to the Dumpster.

“I went home and told my kids, ‘God sent me a piece of paper that says we’re going to eat tonight.’ ”

Houser shouldn’t have done it, but she tried to cash the check. She was arrested. Instead of being convicted, she was placed in alternative rehabilitation program. Her record remains clean, Dietrich said.

In 1990, Houser got a job with the census. Last year, she decided to apply again and passed a qualifying test.

A month or so later, the Census Bureau sent her a letter, asking her for documentation. The way she read it, her fingerprints would suffice, so she had them taken and sent them in the next day.

The bureau rejected her because, it said, she hadn’t sent the right documentation. Dietrich called the bureau’s communications confusing.

Since then, Houser has been involved in a long appeals process, which culminated in the filing of the suit.

Houser, who lives in subsidized housing, estimated that 25 percent of her working-age neighbors are unemployed. They are “just existing,” she said. “It’s just survival.”

She’s helping her neighbors find a path to employment, Houser said. “I’m a little gray-haired old lady and I’m trying to lead them in a better way.”

Letter To The Editor: Census Bureau Ignores Fingerprinting Problems And Focuses on Name Checks

Monday, December 7th, 2009

The following letter, from David Allburn of National Fingerprinting, comes in response to our recent post that features questions about why felon/presumed murderer Thom Gruenig was working in a supervisory role for the 2010 Census answered by the Census Bureau:

To The Editor:

Did you notice that your questions about FINGERPRINT comparisons were answered with statements about NAME-CHECK comparisons?

The Census Bureau made the two statements that “No criminal record was found,” and “He was not in their criminal database.” Those statements ask us to assume that he was not ANYWHERE in their criminal database, most especially not in the FBI “fingerprints” database. It is not evident at all from the investigation report you published, whether the FBI had actually compared Mr. Gruenig’s fingerprints to the fingerprints of felons, no matter what the names were.  The questions to ask should have included these, for which I proposed what the carefully considered Census answers might be:

1.  ”What would normally have happened at the FBI side if Mr. Gruenig’s fingerprints were determined by the FBI automated equipment to lack sufficient image quality to enable print-to-print comparison?” [Answer: A name-check is done instead, and Census relies upon that.]

2. “Is there any record entry maintained at Census or at the FBI, by them or by their contractors, that shows whether the aforementioned image quality test was passed or failed, either by a direct data description or by a reliable indirect indicator?” (…such as an indication that the fingerprint query defaulted into the name-check process by returning a TCR number.) [Answer: If a TCR is returned, that indicator is probably retained by either FBI or Census or their contractors somewhere.]

3. “If due to ‘normal procedure’ Mr. Gruenig’s fingerprints may not have actually been compared with others in the FBI file, is there any process by which new prints can be taken of assured-adequate quality and re-submitted to assure AFIS acceptance and comparison?” [Answer: If Mr. Gruenig were to be booked after our background check, presumably pursuant to a new criminal allegation, his prints would likely be routinely sent by the booking law enforcement agency to the FBI for comparison, and re-sent however many times necessary to assure the fingerprint check was actually accomplished to reveal whether any previous forensic-purpose prints on file matched his.]

4. “If a disqualifying record were thereby exposed and reported, would Census have the same confidence in the fingerprint portion of its background check process as previously asserted?” [Answer: Yes, but our confidence would be higher for those prints that passed the quality check at the FBI side.]

5. “if there were a way to assure that fingerprints submitted with insufficient quality to support an actual FINGERPRINT COMPARISON did not result in a default-hire as may have occurred in the Gruenig case, and such a way could be instantly and simply incorporated into the current logistical process, is there any reason why Census would not adopt it?” [Answer: Census routinely considers all helpful proposals according to the Federal Acquisition Regulations.]

6. “Would Census reveal whether an internal investigation was done to determine if Mr. Gruenig’s prints were rejected for quality reasons, and whether or not there actually were matching prints in the FBI file after all? [Answer: The Census Bureau considers personnel records confidential and does not reveal their contents.]

7. “Would a Freedom-of-Information Act request limited to whether Mr. Gruenig’s prints got a TCR result from the FBI allow a FOIA response?” [Answer: Consult the answer to #5 above.]

8. “If it were to be revealed by other legal means that there was a TCR returned by the FBI in Mr. Gruenig’s case, and that he indeed did have matching prints on file with the FBI under a fake name different from the one he gave on his Census employment application, …. (question left to be finished by MyTwoCensus.)

Of course, the above is an interrogation, not an interview. And it may turn out that Mr. Gruenig’s prints indeed got compared with the FBI print collection and turned up with no matches. Such a result would impugn Alaska’s reporting system, not Census Bureau procedure. But such close questions is necessary when jousting with a skilled PR department that carefully chooses its words such as providing NAME-CHECK answers to FINGERPRINT-CHECK questions.

I am glad that MyTwoCensus will “soon get to the bottom of this.” Can’t wait.

David Allburn

The Census Bureau’s Unintentional Jobs-For-Felons Program

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

The following piece was written by David Allburn, who owns National Fingerprints, LLC and does not represent the views of Stephen Robert Morse or MyTwoCensus.com.  It should be noted that the Census Bureau rejected David’s unsolicited proposal to integrate his company’s services into 2010 Census security procedures.

To assure integrity and to comfort the public, Congress insisted on a fingerprint background check of canvassers for the 2000 census. The Bureau begged-off that time on grounds of insufficient time and funds, but promised they would do both a name-check and a fingerprint check for the 2010 census.

Next March the Bureau will mass-hire more than 500,000 canvassers to visit homes that did not fill out the form. Evident to the canvassers will be: Which homes have burglar alarms, disabled children present, an overworked single mom, expensive décor and vehicles, etc. Such “data” is not sought by the 2010 census. And it probably IS unthinkable that a census canvasser would assault or steal from homeowners during their census visit. But if a census worker was previously arrested for such crimes there is increased risk they might seek to list such unofficial “data” for use in criminal activity later. That is probably what Congress was concerned about when they insisted that former felons not be hired as canvassers.

It might have been tolerable in the 2000 census that only a couple of assaults were committed by canvassers, but the 2010 census will be different. Not just because there are a lot more felons on the street, and a lot fewer recession-jobs for them, but because the Census Bureau screening method for canvasser candidates will attract them.

Felons will automatically resort to half-century-old methods for evading the criminal history name check and fingerprint check. These obvious methods will work this time because the Bureau has chosen fingerprint procedures and policies which are a full century-old. The situation was fully described to the Census Bureau in a classified section of our August 2008 proposal. The first part, about felons getting hired, was publicized in the recent GAO report and the Senate hearing. The second part, about attracting felons to apply in the first place, was not. We begged Census program office officials to consider the impact of this on public confidence and the Bureau’s PR expenditures should it leak out. Sadly, it doesn’t have to leak. It’s evident to felons already, and will probably be left to YouTube and Jay Leno to “further advise” America about it. I hate to think of Jay Leno “interviewing” (comedians) Gilbert Gottfried as the print-taker engaged in fingerprinting applicant Fred Willard.

Knowing that bad prints generate a “you’re hired” outcome, felons will do what they already do to get a job: Use the internet to obtain fake names and buy convincing credentials that pass the name check. Now trainees, they will exploit the 100-year-old “grapple method” of fingerprint capture selected by the Bureau. In this method the Bureau’s “print-takers” grasp each of the trainee’s inked fingers one at a time and roll it onto a card like it was a rubber stamp. If several prints are blurry the print-taker has to start over. But time is limited, and the process depends on GOOD COOPERATION BY THE TRAINEE.

There is cooperation all right, but it not good. While the print-taker grasps each of the fingers, the applicant feigns helplessness, and causes the finger to squirm, tremble, or press down too hard on the card. Since there is limited time for re-takes the trainee just runs-out-the-clock. This forces the unreadable prints to be routinely shipped to the central card-scan facility where they are scanned into, and rejected by, the FBI. Since re-takes are logistically impossible, the felon gets hired as if he passed anyway, by reverting to reliance on the (fake) name check.

Our proposal warned strenuously about this vulnerability, not only for the predictable 20% rejection rate, but also for the liability: If poor print quality were to cost honest trainees their jobs, it could create a cause-of-action because the blurry prints were arguably the fault of the print-taker, not the applicant. (It appears that consideration of this risk may have caused the absurd “you’re hired” policy when prints are unreadable.) We considered this information so sensitive at the time that we packaged it into a classified section of our proposal. It showed exactly how to plug this gaping security weakness with two simple steps:

(1) The Bureau should announce that trainees are responsible for the “readability” of their own fingerprints, and that fingerprint “failure” due to un-readability (or to discovery of disqualifying criminal history), terminates the canvasser’s employment. This stops attracting ex-felons who would intentionally blur their prints, but it is manifestly unfair to honest workers whose fingerprints are blurred by the inexperienced print-takers. This is fixed by step two.

(2) The Bureau should augment its fingerprint capture by adopting part of our patented “self-capture” technique. Invented by a war veteran, the method has applicants use an extra minute or two to make their own set of “backup prints”, observed and authenticated by the print-taker. Barcoded and enclosed with the cards forwarded to the scanning center, those self-captured prints are readily available for fixing any individual print impressions found “bad.” Well tested, this gets the cards through the FBI with the same dependability as live-scanning offers, typically twenty times better than the old rubber-stamp method now in use.

For the few cases where prints are still unreadable the fault lies clearly with the applicant and not the Census Bureau’s print-taker. This forestalls thoughts of lawsuits and class actions. The method fits easily into the current logistics, gets everyone’s prints promptly evaluated by the FBI as intended, doesn’t require logistically impossible re-takes, and discourages ex-felons from trying to exploit the process.

All that’s needed is for the Bureau to invite an amendment to the proposal. A better/faster/cheaper method, simpler than the full-blown method originally proposed, is described in the patent and is readily available and easily deployed to fit the existing logistics. Fortunately it’s neither too late nor too expensive to fix the problem.

One last thing: The Census Bureau is getting a bad rap on print-taker training. They must have trained them well, and the print-takers must be good at it, because those folks are apparently achieving the same 20% FBI reject-ratio that experienced law enforcement officers get, those few who still use that old manual card-rolling method.