Hillary Clinton found herself face-to-face with a manslaughter convict during a campaign stop in New Hampshire this week, where the Democratic presidential candidate strengthened her criminal justice platform by indicating her support for no longer asking job seekers about their criminal history on an application.
During a a community forum on substance abuse and opiate addiction in New Hampshire, Clinton was confronted by a local resident who told her he suffered to find a job due to a criminal manslaughter conviction on his record. The Los Angeles Times' Mike Memoli reports on the exchange:
On Aug. 28, 1990, Carl Babbitt, in the midst of a cocaine- and alcohol-fueled blackout, killed a man. Almost a quarter-century later to the day, he stood 50 feet from Hillary Rodham Clinton and revealed his past.
“You look at me as a regular person. But I served 11 years in prison," he began.
Babbitt, 54, said he was thrown out of his home by his mother as a child and later sexually abused by a foster parent.
“I turned to drugs and alcohol to cover that pain,” he recalled. He would eventually seek treatment but was denied care because he lacked insurance, and six months later stabbed a man to death during a fight. He served 11 of the 15 to 18 years he was sentenced to for manslaughter and was released from prison in 2000.
“I’ve been out clean and sober for 15 years, and I cannot find a full-time job because every time they run a background check, ‘You’re a convicted felon,’” he told Clinton, adding that it is a roadblock that he and many others face.
“What would you suggest we do?” he finally asked.
“I have to confess, I was surprised,” Clinton said, recalling her first 2016 campaign stop in New Hampshire in January where she was first introduced to the magnitude of what she called a "quiet epidemic" devastating New England. New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan's office predicted that there could be as many as 1,000 deaths because of drug overdoses in the state this year.
“I did not expect that I would hear about drug abuse and substance abuse and other such challenges everywhere I went,” Clinton admitted. She told the crowd that she had instructed her campaign advisers to speak with medical professionals and substance-abuse advocates to help shape policy proposals during the coming month.“I think it’s pretty clear that we’ve got to refocus and learn from the experts, from people in recovery themselves, what will work. And that’s why I’m here,” she said.
Clinton went on to answer Babbit's question more directly by arguing that former inmates who had “paid their debt to society” should be “given a chance to present yourself for jobs, for housing." Clinton appeared to support the "Ban the Box" movement when she said that “at the end of the day, people can make their own judgment. But you shouldn’t be automatically disqualified.” Clinton also added that former felons should have their voting rights restored.
In May, Clinton's Democratic primary opponent, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, joined with 26 Democratic Senators in urging President Obama to "restore hope and opportunity to those with criminal records who face substantial obstacles in their quest to be productive members of their communities" by banning the box on federal applications:
We ask you to require federal contractors and agencies to refrain from asking job applicants about prior convictions until later in the hiring process," they said in a letter to Obama on Monday. "This policy would eliminate unnecessary barriers to employment for all job seekers and would give individuals re-entering the workforce the opportunity to apply for work based on their current merits rather than past wrong-doings.
Clinton also held a 15 minute meeting with activists from Black Lives Matter Boston who hadn't been allowed into her New Hampshire event on mass incarceration and substance abuse. The activists told CNN that Clinton "did acknowledge that there are policies that she has been a part of promoting that have not worked," but described Clinton's exchange as "political."
"She got something out of the meeting. That much is certain," Julius Jones, the head of Black Lives Matter Worcester said. "I feel like what we got out of the meeting was to actually press her in a very real way -- probably in a way that she hasn't been pressed in a long time about not only her role as a presidential candidate, but her role as first lady, senator and secretary of state."