Most people get plenty of second chances in life. But for some, one misstep can land them in our nation’s criminal justice system. If this happens, that second chance becomes a much rarer thing. However, an individual should never be defined by one bad moment or decision.
Leaders and residents in Colorado understand this and have made a point to give more state residents a chance to start over. Just over a month ago, the Colorado Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously advanced a proposal to implement a process to seal the criminal records of people convicted of nonviolent offenses automatically after they have remained arrest-free for seven to 10 years following the completion of their sentence.
The proposal (SB22-099), more commonly referred to as “clean slate” legislation, has bipartisan support inside the legislature, the backing of more than 30 local businesses and polls exceptionally well with 72% of the state population in support of its goals. The bill’s co-sponsors, Sen. Dennis Hisey (R-Colorado Springs), Sen. Robert Rodriguez (D-Denver) and Rep. Kerry Tipper (D-Jefferson), view the legislation as a necessary step in addressing pandemic-induced workforce shortages in Colorado. But the proposal is not just about giving people second chances, it is also about helping our local economy and keeping Colorado safe.
Automatic record sealing incentivizes people with current convictions to complete their sentences and remain law-abiding and it rightfully restores eligible others to the same opportunities that are available to all law-abiding citizens. Automatic record clearing facilitates higher employment rates and increased wage earning. In addition to boosting the economy, public safety is enhanced, as evidenced by the significantly lower rates of recidivism among expungement recipients. In fact, one study suggests that these individuals pose less risk of crime than the general population. All of these things would benefit Coloradans, their families and their neighbors.
Most people with nonviolent criminal charges want what we all want: stability and security. Approximately 1.3 million Coloradans are eligible to have their records sealed if SB22-099 becomes law. Excluding them from the job market threatens the stability of the workforce, the economy and the safety of Colorado’s local communities. Absent lawful and stable housing and employment, individuals are at increased risk of resorting to crime to support themselves and their dependents. Prohibiting discriminatory barriers to employment and housing equips everyone with the ability to provide for themselves and their families.
Colorado communities as a whole would benefit, too. Increased access to employment, particularly the low-skill or no-skill employment prioritized during the pandemic, means better service in the restaurant industry, shorter lines in the grocery store and fewer local business closures. More people contributing to the tax base and less reliance on government stipends boosts the local and national economies, while allowing our tax dollars to be better allocated.
We spend a phenomenal amount of money on incarceration, approximately $81 billion annually, and excluding the one in three Americans who have a criminal record from the labor market costs an additional $78 to $87 billion loss in the national annual gross domestic product. Let’s help people find stable employment, give back to our local economy and reduce how many government dollars we waste on over-incarceration.
Colorado also isn’t alone: Similar legislation has been proposed or adopted in Utah, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New York and Illinois, as well as at the federal level.
In short, the proposed clean slate legislation clears the path for individuals to move beyond their greatest misdeed and it reinstates their ability to participate in mainstream society. Individuals, their families and their communities are stronger, safer and more economically stable when the transgressions of the past no longer prohibit the possibility of a successful future.