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More states pushing 'Clean Slate' legislation to clear former convicts

New York is considering a bill that would seal the records of some former prisoners who are able to stay out of trouble after they've been released.
More states pushing 'Clean Slate' legislation to clear former convicts
Posted at 7:32 PM, Jun 02, 2023

The Clean Slate Act takes various forms in different states but generally the legislation seals the criminal records of former prisoners after they've served their time.

New York's Clean Slate Act bill would automatically seal the records of offenders who have served their sentence plus stayed out of trouble for several years afterward — three years for misdemeanors and seven years for most felonies.

The Governor and Assembly Speaker have voiced their support of the bill, while some lawmakers claim it will increase crime.

New York State Senator Daniel G. Stec said, "While the state of New York is overrun by crime this body has decided to double down and allow criminals who already face no-cash bail or solitary confinement another soft on crime law." 

The District Attorneys Association of the State of New York called the law "too broad" and said "mistakes are unavoidable in any automated process."

SEE MORE: After the sentence: The work to restore rights of returning citizens

That said, an unexpected proponent has been local business leaders across the state — claiming the change could provide a boon to the economy.

The New York bill has received support from JP Morgan Chase, Verizon, and the Business Council of New York State.

"The Clean Slate act really has built up a pretty diverse and fascinating coalition around it," said Ames Grawert, from the Brennan Center for Justice. Grawert claims New York state could be losing $7.1 billion annually due to underemployment among those with a criminal record.

"It's about giving people a real meaningful second chance after conviction, and making sure they can compete for jobs and housing on an equal footing with other people," he said.

The Chamber of Commerce claims the U.S. is missing out on $78 billion by excluding formerly incarcerated job seekers.

SEE MORE: Why some states are reforming minimum sentencing requirements

While this legislation has stalled in New York in the past, the clean slate concept is law elsewhere.

Colorado, Virginia, Utah and seven more states have passed this kind of legislation.

Sheena Meade is the CEO of the Clean Slate Initiative and wants to make this a reality in all 50 states.

"This is not just a criminal justice issue. This is a workforce economic issue about getting people back to work, bringing economic stability to our communities," Meade said. 

Meade says the burden of clearing the record should be on the state rather than the individual.

"There's over 110 million people in our country who have an arrest record. That means most of us know somebody who's been impacted by the system, if not one of us ... If we really want people to come back into society, reintegrate, be able to contribute to the tax base, get jobs, get higher education, you have to remove all that red tape," Meade added.

New York's Clean Slate Act would still allow police, prosecutors and judges to access publicly sealed criminal records. The bill also excludes sexual offenses. New York's legislative session ends June 8th.

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