As small businesses all over the United States struggle to find employees, many are going to great lengths to attract workers. Companies are offering higher salaries, retirement benefits and even college tuition assistance. But businesses are still struggling to hire new employees.

What many have yet to realize is that there is an entire population of nonviolent, previously convicted individuals, who have served their time and paid their debt to society but still struggle to find work, who are battling to survive, and who would gladly take any number of these jobs.

A proposed bill could help solve both problems at once. The clean slate legislation (S1553B/A6399A) is a critical first step in breaking the cycle of survival crime and repairing the harms of overcriminalization. It offers a pragmatic solution, especially in these times of economic instability.

How should we expect those with criminal records to succeed when they face countless barriers? Previously convicted individuals face any number of consequences after they are released — education, housing and employment opportunities are already limited for many with criminal records, making it even more difficult to become productive members of society.

Black individuals with a criminal record also have disproportionately higher unemployment rates than their white counterparts, exacerbating longstanding tensions between communities of color and the criminal justice system. While some post-incarceration restrictions and barriers to employment, certification and licensure are warranted, many serve no legitimate purpose. One national study estimates that this translates to 1.7 million fewer employees and $78 billion in lost financial opportunity. The pending clean slate bill would help address these issues, in part by helping more individuals seal conviction records once they are out of the criminal justice system.

New York’s clean slate bill would automatically seal conviction records for eligible offenders after a specified waiting time, using strict criteria to ensure confidence in public safety and established protocols to access the information under specific circumstances, including unsealing information to facilitate background checks for firearms applications, employment in law enforcement, jobs with licensing or clearance requirements, and prosecution of new criminal charges. Sex offense convictions under Section 168 of the correctional law are not eligible to be sealed.

When it comes to sealing or expunging criminal records, the evidence is clear. Research shows that individuals with a prior criminal record are no more likely than the general population to commit crime if they have not come to the attention of the criminal justice system for four to seven years. Other studies confirm the extremely low rates of reoffending while also substantiating the improved employment and increased wage outcomes.

Clean slate legislation, which is supported by the nation’s prosecutors and top law enforcement professionals, is fundamental to reducing the consequences of conviction that impede individual, familial and national economic progress. Sealing eligible conviction records increases employment opportunities and fosters economic and housing stability, while finally allowing justice-involved individuals the ability to reintegrate fully into their communities in a law-abiding manner.

Our nation’s economy and the safety of our communities necessitates a process whereby each eligible employee can be a thriving, contributing member of society. Clean slate initiatives like the one proposed in New York provide that opportunity while ensuring public safety. Now, more than ever, we must recognize the positive outcomes associated with automatic expungement — reducing the barriers to reintegration and providing a clear path to employment, housing and economic stability for justice-involved individuals.

Image credit: weedezign

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