Background checks are powerful tools to protect the public and when these checks are not conducted or are limited, the public can be at risk.

Domestic violence advocates in Hawaii are calling for changes in the way the state allows people to obtain employment for positions working with vulnerable populations after it was revealed in 2021 that several formerly incarcerated people who had been convicted of violent crimes – even murder – are working with foster kids and other vulnerable populations.  The case that called attention to the issue was the case of Justin Jay Boulay.

In 1999, Justin Jay Boulay was convicted of first-degree murder.  The year prior, Boulay strangled his girlfriend to death by wrapping a telephone cord around her neck.  Boulay, 20 at the time, and his girlfriend, Andrea Will, then 18, were students at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston. [1] After serving 12 years of his 24-year sentence, Boulay was paroled and moved to Hawaii[2] where he was hired to work with foster kids.

In 2019, “Boulay was hired as a special assistant with the state Department of Human Services in the Child Welfare Services division.”  In this role, he has “direct contact with foster kids and others who have been abused.”  When asked if this was an unusual hire, “Meda Chesney Lind, a professor of Women’s Studies at the University of Hawaii, said Boulay’s position is surprising. ‘To put him in an organization that basically women go to for help is, in my view, problematic and especially if he’s alone with those people,’ she said.  According to the job description, a special assistant has direct client contact. Among the duties: Transporting the child or children and supervising visits… “When people get out of prison, we really do want to give them another chance. They need housing, they need employment,” Lind said. “But it seems to me child and family services is not an appropriate place for him to work because people are coming there for help.”[3]

Boulay was able to pass a criminal background check because the check only looked back ten years.  Boulay’s sentence for the first-degree murder of his girlfriend by strangling her with a phone cord, was 11 years before the background check was conducted.  And, the background check only looked at local offenses, not national ones.  Had the background check looked back further in time, and been national in scope, the public could have been better protected.

Now, following the news of Boulaty, “[a]dvocates for victims of domestic violence are calling for change in the way the state hires people with access to vulnerable victims after a man who was convicted of and served time for murder in another state is now an employee of Hawaii’s Child Welfare Services.”

[1] Dave Fopay, Boulay found guilty of murder. Former EIU student from St., March 10, 1999.

[2] ABC-7, Freed killer headed to Hawaii with wife, Nov. 17, 2010.

[3] Kawano, Lynn, Convicted murderer’s hiring in Child Welfare Services exposes background check gaps, Hawaii News Now, June 7, 2021.