A May 2021 Stateline article from The Pew Charitable Trusts reveals that a growing number of states are trying to ease the burden of criminal records expungement and record clearing by making the process automatic, without requiring any action by the people seeking to clear their records. About 1 in 3 U.S. adults, some 70 million people, have a criminal record, including those who were arrested but not convicted. The article's author asserts that these records have long-lasting consequences that can hinder a person’s access to employment, housing or a professional license.
According to the article, many people who are eligible fail to get their records cleared because the process can be costly and complicated. The article points to a 2020 study by two University of Michigan law professors found 90% of those eligible in Michigan don’t apply. A key reason for this, the author asserts, is that, in states that allow for certain criminal records to be sealed or expunged but don’t have an automatic process, people must file a petition in court, which is complicated and expensive. Then the courts must process each petition individually.
As of May 2021, Stateline found a dozen bills introduced across 10 states this year that push for automatic clearing, expungement or sealing of criminal records. Supporters say these bills are necessary to get millions of people back to work, but critics argue that sealing criminal records could threaten public safety.
Learn more about efforts in Virginia, Texas, Michigan and beyond in Stateline
State leaders discuss recent transformative policies that offer a model for state and federal policymakers to put second chances within reach for workers and families facing the stigma of a criminal record.
While every state allows for some criminal and juvenile delinquency records to be cleared, the process varies depending on the state, the charges, and the type of information involved.