An estimated 70-100 million Americans have arrest records, which seriously hamper their efforts to find housing and productive jobs, The Marshall Project reports in its Closing Argument newsletter. However, the report noted new “clean slate” laws are making a positive difference.
“Every time I try to do something better, my criminal record is my nemesis,” said Terrance Stewart, who served time in a California prison for a drug conviction. He said he was homeless or lived in “one roach-infested apartment after another” following his release.
Stewart is now a member of a California organization called, TimeDone. It advocates for a person’s criminal record to be sealed or expunged.
States vary widely on how they handle this issue, but more than half have adopted some form of a “ban the box” law, which prohibit asking about criminal records on job applications and delays background checks until a job interview.
After its full implementation, a recent California law will result in the automatic sealing of most felony records for people “who are not convicted of another felony for four years after completing their sentence and any parole and probation.”
Those convicted of serious felonies will have to petition a judge to have their records sealed and the law excludes registered sex offenders.
The law passed despite opposition from groups such as the state’s Peace Officers Research Association, which argued such laws put community safety at risk.
However, research cited by The Marshall Project suggests that denying someone employment because of their past can encourage criminal behavior. In addition, when a person does not commit any new crimes four to seven years after their release from prison, their likelihood of reoffending is on a par with those with no criminal record.
At the federal level, a bipartisan group of lawmakers is currently formulating clean slate legislation.
The leader of TimeDone, Jay Jordan, spoke to importance of giving formerly-incarcerate people a true fresh start when they return to their communities.
“It is literally [the correctional] system saying this person is rehabilitated, go on and live your life. It signifies that when your time is done, your sentence should be complete,” Jordan said.