Sunday, January 13, 2019
Reducing Barriers to Reintegration: fair chance and expungement reforms in 2018 reviews recent legislative efforts to ease the lives of those US residents whose criminal records interfere with their participating in basic human rights. The report was issued by the Collateral Consequences Resource Center. The Center "The Collateral Consequences Resource Center is a non-profit organization established in 2014 to promote public discussion of the collateral consequences of conviction, the legal restrictions and social stigma that burden people with a criminal record long after their court-imposed sentence has been served."
Significant progress was made this year as activists succeeded in obtaining the support of legislators across the nation. Restoration of voting rights, as well as criminal record sealing reform where among the most significant changes of 2018. Florida was the most reported and significant state to restore voting rights after all incarceration, probation, parole periods have expired and all related fines have been paid. The law excludes those convicted of murder and sex offenses. The new law, which went into effect on January 8th, impacts approximately 1.6 million voters. Those votes are significant in a swing state. Disenfranchisement was promoted in the Jim Crow era and again during the 1960s. As back voters exercised their voting rights, legislators looked for new ways to block their voting. Combined with aggressive drug enforcement policies directed primarily against African Americans disenfranchisement proved to be an effective tool.
The Reducing Barriers report's executive summary includes the following:
In 2018, 30 states and the District of Columbia produced 56 separate laws aimed at reducing barriers faced by people with criminal records in the workplace, at the ballot box, and elsewhere. Many of these new laws enacted more than one type of reform. This prolific legislative “fair chance” track record, the high point of a six-year trend, reflects the lively on-going national conversation about how best to promote rehabilitation and reintegration of people with a criminal record.
As in past years, approaches to restoring rights varied widely from state to state, both with respect to the type of relief, as well as the specifics of who is eligible, how relief is delivered, and the effect of relief. Despite a growing consensus about the need for policy change to alleviate collateral consequences, little empirical research has been done to establish best practices, or what works best to promote reintegration.
The most promising legislative development recognizes the key role occupational licensing plays in the process of reintegration, and it was this area that showed the greatest uniformity of approach. Of the 14 states that enacted laws regulating licensing in 2018, nine (added to 4 in 2017) adopted a similar comprehensive framework to improve access to occupational licenses for people with a criminal record, limiting the kinds of records that may be considered, establishing clear criteria for administrative decisions, and making agency procedures more transparent and accountable.
The most consequential single new law was a Florida ballot initiative to restore the franchise to 1.5 million people with a felony conviction, which captured headlines across the country when it passed with nearly 65% of voters in favor. Voting rights were also restored for parolees, by statute in Louisiana and by executive order in New York.
The largest number of new laws—27 statutes in 19 states—expanded access to sealing or expungement, by extending eligibility to additional categories of offenses and persons, by reducing waiting periods, or by simplifying procedures. A significant number of states addressed record-clearing for non-conviction records (including diversions), for marijuana or other decriminalized offenses, for juveniles, and for human trafficking victims.
The reporters state: "The legal landscape at the end of 2018 suggests that states are experimenting with a more nuanced blending of philosophical approaches to dealing with the collateral consequences of arrest and conviction. These approaches include forgiving people’s past crimes (through pardon or judicial dispensation), forgetting them (through record-sealing or expungement), or forgoing creating a record in the first place (through diversionary dispositions). While sealing and expungement remain the most popular forms of remedy, there seems to be both popular and institutional resistance to limiting what the public may see respecting the record of serious offenses, and a growing preference for more transparent restoration mechanisms that limit what the public may do with such a record, along with standards to guide administrative decision-making."