Webinar: Growing Momentum for Clean Slate and Fair Chance Licensing in the States

In an April 2021 event, the Center for American Progress, National Employment Law Project, and Community Legal Services of Philadelphia hosted a conversation with several of the state leaders behind recent transformative policy wins 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.

The event highlighted that, in recognition that a criminal record should not be a life sentence to poverty and joblessness, bipartisan momentum for both “clean slate” automatic record clearance and fair chance licensing has exploded in recent years, with dozens of states advancing these policy reforms to remove barriers to economic security for their justice-impacted residents. As leaders at all levels of government work to “build back better,” removing barriers to employment for workers with records is even more urgently needed amid the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and downturn to ensure not only a full but an equitable recovery that does not leave tens of millions of justice-impacted individuals and families behind.

The event was moderated by Rebecca Vallas, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress and featured distinguished guests Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist of Michigan as well as panelists:

Rep. Jordan Harris (D), Minority Whip, Pennsylvania General Assembly
Sharon Dietrich, Litigation Director, Community Legal Services of Philadelphia
Josh Hoe, Policy Analyst, Safe and Just Michigan
Whitley Carpenter, Criminal Justice Staff Attorney, Forward Justice
Jael Myrickr, Interim Director, Clean Slate Practice, East Bay Community Law Center

Access the recorded event from the Center for American Progress

More States Consider Automatic Criminal Record Expungement

Image source: Anna Nichols, The Associated Press (All Rights Reserved) 

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

Chicago Hosts Second Chance Hiring Event

In celebration of Second Chance Month 2021, The Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership (The Partnership) hosted a one-of-a-kind virtual event to discuss the business case for “second chance” hiring: “A Hire Calling.” The event featured nationally known CEOs and people who have created thriving careers post-incarceration and included the premiere of “The Road Home,” a short feature video and a “fireside chat” featuring “second chance” expert and author Jeff Korzenik and Master of Ceremonies David Snyder, CEO and President of Economic Club of Chicago President. The Partnership’s CEO and host, Karin M. Norington-Reaves, opened the event by setting the stage for the unique, important dialogue and presentation:

“Data shows that 60% of people incarcerated in Illinois return to 15 communities in Cook County and 12 zip codes in Chicago. The need to ensure that these individuals receive access to resources, including employment training and job placement, is more critical than ever before.”

The Partnership, the non-profit organization that operates the largest public workforce network in the nation, serves Chicago and Cook County. In collaboration with Cook County’s Justice Advisory Council (JAC), The Partnership created the Cook County Coordinated Reentry Council and held eight months of convenings resulting in recommendations for systemic changes to the region’s reentry system. This effort includes The Reentry Navigation Initiative: The Road Home, a 22-month demonstration project intended to address people’s holistic needs upon returning to Cook County from incarceration in Illinois’ penal institutions. This initiative includes an emphasis on workforce development, occupational training, and permanent unsubsidized job placement.

Learn more about the Partnership’s “A Hire Calling” events and efforts to increase second chance hiring

State Highlight: Pennsylvania Becomes First State in Nation to Automate Record Sealing

 By CSG Justice Center Staff

After lobbying by a diverse group that included record clearance advocates, business leaders, and Philadelphia Eagles players, Pennsylvania’s Clean Slate Act is set to take full effect on June 28, 2019. The first of its kind in the nation, the law mandates automatic, computer-generated record sealing for certain kinds of criminal records—meaning that the vast majority of employers, landlords, schools, and occupational licensing agencies will no longer be able to access these records. This legislation has the potential to mitigate barriers to employment, housing, and education that people with criminal records often face.

The Act, which passed the legislature with overwhelming bipartisan support, affects records of conviction for minor offenses known as “summary offenses,” many misdemeanor convictions, and charges that did not lead to conviction. Sealing is allowed after a 10-year period free of any misdemeanor or felony conviction, as long as all financial obligations are paid.

To start the process, each month the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts will send the Pennsylvania State Police—which keeps the central repository of criminal records—a list of records that a computer program has identified as eligible for automatic sealing. The state police will validate these records, notifying the Administrative Office of any ineligible records or data discrepancies. The Administrative Office will then send the list of eligible records to all county courts across the state. Finally, county courts will issue monthly orders for limited access, sealing all affected records.

With an order for limited access in place, access will be limited to state and county officials in the performance of their duties relating to child welfare, employers who are required to consider these records under federal law, and employers who utilize FBI background checks. These records can also be disclosed by court order in certain situations described in the statute.

Pennsylvania’s Clean Slate Act addresses a problem known as the “second chance gap,” the gap between the number of records eligible for clearance under state law and the number of records that are actually cleared. An automated clearance system, such as Pennsylvania’s under the new law, takes the burden off people with criminal records to determine their eligibility and navigate the complex clearance process. Automated clearance for certain criminal records also helps reduce the considerable resources needed to process, evaluate, and decide on record clearance petitions on a case-by-case basis.

By the end of June 2020, all existing, eligible records in Pennsylvania—covering hundreds of millions of charges, according to the Administrative Office—are to be sealed. An analysis by the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office concluded that 22 percent  of all convictions in the state from January 1, 2003, to November 1, 2008, will be sealed as a result of the Clean Slate Act.

In addition to mandating automatic clearance for certain records, Pennsylvania’s Clean Slate Act also expanded eligibility for sealing other records through the existing petition-based process. More information on this provision is available in this flowchart from Community Legal Services of Philadelphia.

State Highlight: New Jersey Expands Juvenile, Adult Record Clearance Opportunities

By CSG Justice Center Staff

Two new laws take effect in New Jersey this year that expand the scope of juvenile and adult record clearance and reduce the time people must wait to request it. The laws were passed by the New Jersey Legislature in late 2017.

Unlike most states, New Jersey law allows for the clearance of an entire juvenile record after a waiting period is completed, in addition to providing for clearance on a case-by-case basis. As of April 1, 2018, one of the new laws, S3308, cut that waiting period from five years to three years. For expungement of an entire record, the three-year waiting period starts at the person’s final discharge from legal custody or the entry of the last court order in the case. The other eligibility factors remain unchanged by the new law, which requires that the person must

  • Not have been convicted or adjudicated delinquent for any offense during the waiting period;
  • Not have current adult or juvenile charges;
  • Not have a juvenile adjudication on their record for which the adult equivalent is ineligible for expungement;
  • Not have had an adult conviction expunged; and
  • Not have had a dismissal of adult charges after completing a supervisory treatment or other diversion program.

“The National Juvenile Defender Center applauds New Jersey for shortening the waiting period for certain juvenile record expungements, which could reduce some of the barriers young people face when seeking employment, accessing housing, and applying for college,” said Mary Ann Scali, the executive director of the National Juvenile Defender Center.

The new law regarding adult records, S3307—which takes effect on October 1, 2018—contains a raft of changes to adult criminal record expungement provisions, expanding the number of records that can be expunged and making expungement available sooner. The law reduces the waiting period to request expungement of conviction records for crimes from 10 years to 6 years, allows more records to be expunged, and removes the bar to expungement for people who have had charges dismissed after completing a supervisory treatment or other diversion program. The old law dictated that anyone seeking expungement was limited to one crime (defined as an offense punishable by more than six months of imprisonment) and two lesser offenses (termed “disorderly persons” and “petty disorderly persons” offenses, which are not crimes). The new law allows more combinations of records to be considered for expungement, including

  • One crime and up to three lesser offenses;
  • Multiple crimes and lesser offenses from the same case; and
  • Multiple crimes and lesser offenses that were closely related and committed within a short period of time.

Those seeking to expunge conviction records of only lesser offenses have more options under the new law as well. The limit of one lesser offense was raised to four, and the following categories were added:

  • Multiple lesser offenses from the same date
  • Multiple lesser offenses that were closely related and committed within a short period of time

In all of the above categories, the law requires that the person seeking expungement have no other prior or later convictions.

The new law also addresses the fact that unpaid fines from criminal cases can keep expungement out of reach for people who would otherwise qualify. As is common in other states, the waiting period to request expungement in New Jersey begins when the most recent case is completely over—and all fines are paid in full. The new law provides relief by

  • Allowing a person whose fines are still not fully paid to seek expungement after six years as long as there is no evidence of willful noncompliance with court orders to pay;
  • Waiving the six-year waiting period once a person pays a fine in full, provided six years have passed since conviction or sentence completion; and
  • Allowing a person to petition for expungement five years after full payment, the end of probation or parole, or release from incarceration, whichever is latest, if the person has no later conviction and a judge decides that expungement would be in the public interest.

“These amendments represent a growing acknowledgement in New Jersey of the unnecessary limitations caused by simply having a past arrest or conviction,” said Akil Roper, vice president and assistant general counsel at Legal Services of New Jersey. “Removing these barriers earlier in the process—and expanding eligibility—will positively impact many people, families and communities.”

State Highlight: North Carolina’s Record Clearance Expansion

By CSG Justice Center Staff

North Carolina’s General Assembly moved to significantly reduce waiting periods and expand the number of records eligible for clearance with Session Law 2017-195, which went into effect December 1, 2017.

Notably, the law reduces the waiting period to expunge a nonviolent felony conviction record from 15 years to 10 years; for a nonviolent misdemeanor record, the law reduces the period from 15 years to 5 years.

“The reduced waiting periods make the relief more meaningful by making it available sooner, when people are more likely to be adversely affected by having a criminal record,” said John Rubin, a law professor at the University of North Carolina and author of Relief from a Criminal Conviction: A Digital Guide to Expunctions, Certificates of Relief, and Other Procedures in North Carolina.

Before the law’s enactment, dismissal or acquittal charges could not be expunged if the person had already obtained an expunction for another case. The law removes that restriction. It also eliminates the requirement that the dismissal or acquittal charges must have originated in the same 12-month period to be expunged. Furthermore, with some clarifying language, the law reinforces that a court can expunge dismissal and acquittal charges even if the person was convicted of one or more misdemeanors in the same case. However, a person with a previous felony conviction remains ineligible to expunge dismissal and acquittal records.

“By repealing the provision that allowed one expunction of a dismissal or acquittal for life, the North Carolina General Assembly expanded the opportunity for relief,” Rubin said.

Data show that dismissal and acquittal records made up the large majority of expunged records, even before the new law took effect: From July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017, North Carolina courts issued 12,438 orders to expunge records, of which 10,457 (84 percent) dealt with dismissal and acquittal records. The second most common type of expunged records involved people erroneously named as perpetrators of crimes because of identity theft or mistake; these matters, which also include non-conviction records, were the subject of 1,010 orders (8 percent). Orders to expunge conviction records of older nonviolent felonies and misdemeanors were a distant third, with 500 issued (4 percent).

Data on the impact of the December 2017 changes are not yet available. The law’s elimination of the prior expunction bar and shortening of the waiting periods should significantly increase both the non-conviction and conviction records eligible to be expunged.

While the law increases access to record clearance, it also directs the state court system to provide all North Carolina state prosecutors with a list of people whose records are expunged on or after July 1, 2018, along with copies of their petitions. Excluded from the list are people who obtained expunction orders for cases in which they were found not guilty. Prosecutors can use conviction records expunged on or after July 1, 2018, to determine a sentence if the person is later convicted of a new criminal offense.

State Highlight: Illinois Widens Net of Records Eligible for Expungement

By CSG Justice Center Staff

A record clearance law enacted in August 2017 put Illinois at the forefront of states expanding access to criminal record clearance. House Bill 2373 greatly increased the number of offenses eligible for record sealing, among other provisions. Effective immediately, all felony convictions became eligible for sealing, other than those that were already carved out as ineligible. Previously, only a few specified felonies were eligible for sealing, along with misdemeanors and municipal violations.

The only convictions that remain ineligible for sealing are:

  • Domestic battery and violation of orders of protection
  • Humane care for animals offenses (Class A misdemeanor and above)
  • Driving under the influence and reckless driving, unless it was a youthful offender case
  • Sex crimes, except for prostitution and misdemeanor public indecency

A person will still have to wait three years before they can file for record clearance, which starts when they complete their last sentence. But there is a new exception to the waiting period, which is intended to promote rehabilitation: if a person obtains an educational degree or career certification while serving their last sentence, they can request sealing of eligible records immediately after completing that sentence. The changes to the waiting period do not apply to convictions that require registration on the Murder and Violence Offense Against Youth registry; a person on this registry must wait to apply for record sealing until they are no longer required to register.

Entities required by law to conduct fingerprint-based background checks through the Illinois State Police, such as schools, park districts, and health care providers, will still have access to sealed records, as they did before the expansion.

“This is the greatest expansion of sealing relief in Illinois history. We anticipate that this law will change the futures of thousands of individuals who felt there was no hope,” said Beth Johnson, Legal Director of Cabrini Green Legal Aid, which handles about 70 percent of the sealing petitions filed in Chicago each year. Johnson reported that of the 1,140 people her organization helped with sealing in the final three months of 2017, 30 percent would have been ineligible before the law’s expansion.

State Highlight: Nevada Opens Opportunities for Record Clearance

By CSG Justice Center Staff

As the 2017 legislative session ended, Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval signed a law that significantly increases opportunities to seal criminal records. Assembly Bill 327, which took effect on October 1, puts Nevada at the forefront of states changing record clearance laws to help people with criminal convictions move beyond their record.

The new law reduces the length of time a person must wait before petitioning for a record sealing, establishes a presumption in favor of sealing in most cases, and simplifies the petition process for those who want to seal more than one record. It also opens the possibility of sealing to those who received a dishonorable discharge from probation, which can result from not paying all fines and fees. Offenses that were previously ineligible for sealing, such as sex crimes and felony DUIs, remain ineligible under the new law.

AB 327 reduces the waiting period for various levels of offenses, which include:

  • Category A felonies, crimes of violence, and burglary, for which the time is reduced from 15 years to 10 years
  • Category B, C, and D felonies, for which the time is reduced from 12 years to 5 years
  • Category E felonies, for which the time is reduced from seven years to two years
  • Gross misdemeanors, for which the time is reduced from five years to two years
  • Most other misdemeanors, for which the time is reduced from two years to one year

For people completing a reentry program after incarceration, the time is reduced from five years to four years.

The law also streamlines the sealing process when more than one court is involved. Before AB 327, a person would have to file multiple petitions to seal records for cases in different courts; now, a person can file a single petition in the district court to request sealing of all eligible records.

Proponents of the bill say it will have positive effects, both economically and socially.

“The new law comes at an auspicious time,” said Rita Greggio, Community Development Attorney at Nevada Legal Services. “As Nevada’s economy continues to grow, the job market has become increasingly competitive, and the new law will allow job seekers to seal their records more quickly, allowing them to re-enter the workforce sooner.”

“It’s hard for most people to imagine the barriers caused by a criminal record,” said Barbara Buckley, Executive Director of the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada. “Individuals can lose opportunities for employment, housing, and so much more.  Last year we saw a mom denied access to a military base to see her son graduate. Changing these laws will change so many lives for the better.”

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