The FAMCare Blog

A Clean Slate

Posted by GVT Admin on May 7, 2024 10:00:59 AM

A Clean Slate for formerly incarcerated people

It has become a cliché in film and TV that ex-cons (as they're known) struggle to make a fresh start because they have a "record". Every school kid in America knows that he/she doesn't want to have a "record". They'll never get a good job, never work for the government and, in many places, never be allowed to vote. A standard question on most job applications inquires whether you've ever been arrested. In other words, after a convicted felon has paid his/her "debt to society", he/she must continue to pay the debt forever. Research tells us that this "criminal record" relentlessly following those long after they have served their sentence is the primary cause of recidivism in U.S. Finding no other way to care for themselves in the "outside" world, they return to crime for survival.

The Second Chance Act

Over 70 million Americans have a criminal record and, of those sentenced to prison, over 650,000 leave State and Federal prisons on an annual basis. In the past, it was common for these individuals to become involved again with the justice system soon after their release. One of the reasons formerly incarcerated people face so many barriers to attaining critical needs like housing, jobs, healthcare, and education is they are often stigmatized and discriminated against because of their "record"—even if they are no longer involved in criminal activity.

On April 9, 2008, The Second Chance Act was signed into law. The Second Chance Act community-based reentry program supports organizations and tribal governments providing comprehensive reentry services to individuals who have been incarcerated. President Biden said in his Proclamation of Second Chance Month 2024, "America was founded on the promise of new beginnings." In the spirit of new beginnings, the Second Chance Act codified into law exactly what it sounds like - a concept that everyone deserves a second chance to make their lives right, even individuals who are, or were, imprisoned. As the National Institute of Justice notes, there are more than 44,000 collateral consequences on the federal, state, and local levels that block access to public benefits, employment opportunities, and other crucial services that are necessary for formerly incarcerated people to build stable lives and avoid recidivism. “Nine out of ten employers, four out of five landlords, three out of five colleges use background checks to screen applicants for records,” said Sheena Meade, Clean Slate Initiative’s CEO.

The "Clean Slate Initiative" Nonprofit

Sheena Meade’s nonprofit organization advocates for adoption of "Second Chance" initiatives at the state level for policies that automatically clear arrest and conviction records for eligible people. Automatic record clearance has proven to be helpful for many formerly incarcerated people because many do not know they are eligible to apply for expungement. And, if they know they are eligible to have their record cleared, the time and resources to do so may prove to be cumbersome. CSI advocates for expansive and comprehensive record clearance legislation that must include:

  1. Automation of record clearance.
  2. Automatic clearance upon eligibility of the record (noting that eligibility varies from state to state).
  3. Inclusion of arrest records.
  4. Inclusion of misdemeanor records.
  5. A strong recommendation for laws to include eligibility of at least one felony record.

"It’s about redemption, forgiveness, second chances,” Meade said. “People having second chances or people having access to jobs, housing, education should not be something that creates political discord.”

What is the Current Status?

Since Pennsylvania became the first state to enact a clean slate law in 2018, 11 other states have done so: Pennsylvania, Utah, New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, Virginia, Oklahoma, Colorado, California, Minnesota, and New York. Eligibility requirements look different in each state, but according to the Clean Slate Initiative, the enactment of these laws has led to record clearance for over 15 million people. The Clean Slate Initiative’s (CSI) six-year strategy to unlock opportunities for an additional 14 million people primarily focuses on passing and implementing Clean Slate laws at the state level.

Town Crier

We asked 15 of our case worker correspondents if they knew that the formerly incarcerated had a chance to have their record expunged. Virtually, no one knew.

Having read this blog, please spread the word.

To learn more please visit, The Clean Slate Initiative 

How The Clean Slate Initiative Helps Formerly Incarcerated People 

Topics: Adult Re-Entry, social issues

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