Lawmakers in Congress are soon set to hear a bipartisan proposal that has the potential to help tens of thousands of Americans get a second chance by creating the first ever federal process for sealing criminal records.
The Stranger: To the State Legislature: Fulfill the Promise You Made, Pass the Clean Slate Act Today
Tarra Simmons is a lawyer, Director of Civil Survival, and a candidate for Washington State House of Representatives in the 23rd Legislative District. She argues in this op-ed that the Clean Slate Act is a necessary remedy to our justice system, which all too often punishes too many vulnerable people for life.
It is estimated that one in every three Americans has a criminal record. For some, that record can be a barrier to employment, housing and even volunteering. But that could change soon in Washington state if any of three proposals before the state Legislature are approved.
New York does not allow for the expungement of criminal records, but a two-year-old law permits some individuals to seal files for certain crimes after a decade has passed since a person's sentencing or the end of their prison term. Advocates behind a new campaign, called Clean Slate New York, argue that the law is underused and does not help reintegrate convicted criminals back into society, stripping them of employment, housing and other opportunities.
There is a bipartisan movement under way across the country to clean old criminal records. Last year lawmakers from both parties in Pennsylvania—nudged by an odd-bedfellows coalition of left-leaning activists, unions, chambers of commerce, Koch Industries and others—voted overwhelmingly to be the first state to do so. In June it started sealing over 30m records, and will soon be finished. That spurred others.
The Michigan House approved Tuesday with wide-ranging support a bipartisan seven-bill package that would clear the criminal records of many Michigan ex-offenders.