Dear Chairman Nadler and Ranking Member Jordan,

On behalf of the R Street Institute—a nonprofit, nonpartisan, public policy research organization whose mission is to engage in policy research and outreach to promote free markets and limited, effective government—we write to encourage you to advance the bipartisan, bicameral Clean Slate Act of 2021, H.R. 2864 and S. 1380. [1] At a time when many in the country are rightly focused on public safety, this bill would reduce recidivism—and therefore crime—rates by promoting successful reentry into society through automatic and petition-based record-sealing processes for certain federal drug offenses. This bill would also build upon the work already done in Congress to create a fairer and more effective justice system.

Individuals with criminal records face barrier after barrier to successful reentry into society for their entire lives, resulting in far higher unemployment rates than the general public. [2] These barriers hinder their chances of securing housing, finding gainful employment and pursuing further education, among other basic life needs of law-abiding citizens. Inevitably, hurdles to succeeding as a law-abiding citizen—especially for those with drug offenses—are likely to lead an individual to recidivate, back to the criminal behavior that they did time for, whether it be substance dependency to cope with life, or low-level dealing to support both their own drug habits as well as their finances. [3] Allowing such individuals who have successfully completed all terms of their sentence—including probation or any alternate form of community supervision—and remained crime-free a second chance at living a free life unencumbered by a criminal record is smart, safe policy.

The Clean Slate Act of 2021, introduced in the House by Reps. Lisa Blunt-Rochester (D-Del.) and Guy Reschenthaler (R-Pa.) and in the Senate by Sens. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), would provide for the automatic sealing of records of individuals for low-level, nonviolent drug offenses under Section 404 of the Controlled Substances Act as well as all non-violent federal marijuana offenses one year following successful completion of all requirements of their sentence, including imprisonment, probation and supervised release. [4] It would also provide for automatic sealing of records of individuals for arrests or charges of a crime for which they were never convicted.

Further, this bill also provides for a petition-based record-sealing process for certain other non-violent federal offenses, with automatic exclusions for any individual with more than two existing covered felony convictions or any non-covered felony conviction. Notably, this bill includes a specified clause providing employer immunity from liability for claims of misconduct of an individual they have hired whose record was sealed as a result of the bill. Such immunity applies if the misconduct relates to the portion of the criminal record that was sealed from the employer during the hiring process.

Simply put, the gainful employment and success of the 95 percent of incarcerated individuals in this country who will one day return to our communities is in the best interest of public safety and of every American. [5] During Second Chance Month, we urge you to consider support for and advancement of the common-sense Clean Slate Act of 2021, in order to not only provide a meaningful second chance for the one in three Americans who have a criminal record, but also to continue the bipartisan work that Congress has already done in the area of justice reform to improve public safety and ensure a more efficient, fair and effective justice system overall. [6]

Sincerely,

Jillian E. Snider
Director of Criminal Justice & Civil Liberties
R Street Institute

Cc: Members of the House Committee on the Judiciary

[1] H.R. 2864, Clean Slate Act of 2021, 117th Congress; S.1380, Clean Slate Act of 2021, 117th Congress.

[2] Lucius Couloute and Daniel Kopf, “Out of Prison & Out of Work: Unemployment among formerly incarcerated people,” Prison Policy Initiative, July 2018. https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/outofwork.html.

[3] Mark T. Berg and Beth M. Huebner, “Reentry and the Ties that Bind: An Examination of Social Ties, Employment, and Recidivism,” Justice Quarterly 28:2 (April 2011). https://www.pacific-gateway.org/reentry,%20employment%20and%20recidivism.pdf.

[4] 21 U.S. Code § 844.

[5] Timothy Hughes and Doris James Wilson, “Reentry Trends in the United States,” Bureau of Justice Statistics, Aug. 20, 2003. https://bjs.ojp.gov/content/pub/pdf/reentry.pdf.

[6] “Home,” Clean Slate Initiative, last accessed April 13, 2022. https://www.cleanslateinitiative.org.