Formerly incarcerated people deserve a clean slate after paying their debt to society, according to a Queens assemblywoman.
From employment to housing, to higher education, a conviction record can cause a lifetime of blocked opportunity and for people returning to their communities after the completion of their sentence, these collateral consequences hold them back from meaningfully contributing to their families, community, and the broader state.
Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz announced her new Clean Slate legislation that would ensure that New Yorkers are not punished in perpetuity by establishing a unique two-step process of first automatically sealing and later automatically expunging conviction records once a person has served their sentence. Not only would this legislation enable New Yorkers to better provide for themselves and their families, but its impact would reverberate across the state by ensuring an equitable economic recovery in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As part of our ongoing pursuit of true criminal justice reform, we must focus on human dignity, fairness, and guaranteeing that individuals are not punished beyond their sentences,” Cruz said. “We must eliminate the collateral damage created by past conviction records. The Clean Slate Act ensures that people have the opportunity to fully and fairly participate in society. I am proud to sponsor this legislation, giving people the opportunity to return and meaningfully contribute to their communities, and to address the perpetual wrongs of over-policing, excessive prosecution, and racial injustice in our criminal legal system.”
A recent study found that within one year of expunging conviction records under a Michigan law, people were 11 percent more likely to be employed and earn 22 percent higher wages. New York State loses money by keeping people with conviction records out of its economy, and employers lose access to a broad and talented applicant pool. One study found that people who serve time in prison lose an average of $484,000 in earnings over their lifetime. These lost earnings entrench poverty and worsen the racial wealth cap.
“We are all more than the worst thing we’ve ever done. But today, hundreds of thousands of people with criminal records have no idea if this is the day they might lose their job, their home, their access to healthcare or education,” Brooklyn state Senator Zellnor Myrie said. “These people are our friends, neighbors and family members, New Yorkers with conviction records deserve a Clean Slate. The rest of us deserve to live in a state where our criminal legal system lives up to its highest ideals. Our communities will be stronger, safer and more stable if everyone is able to contribute to the best of their abilities.”