Delaware recorded its first positive case of COVID-19 on March 11, 2020. A little more than a year later, Delaware’s economy, like so many others, is still feeling the impacts of the global pandemic. But as people begin to re-enter the workforce again, there is one group who may have a harder time finding work than most: the up to 400,000 people living with a Delaware criminal record.

Under current Delaware law, there is a process for individuals with criminal records to obtain a legal expungement. But that process isn’t easy to navigate. Some expungements are mandatory, but others are discretionary. And unfortunately, a recent study shows that the pathway to either type of expungement is so complicated and costly that less than 6% of people eligible for expungement under Delaware law have made it through the process. Because they lack the ability to pay court fees and lawyers, most eligible people are still being unnecessarily held back by their criminal records, which prevent them from supporting their families, obtaining safe housing and securing stable employment opportunities.

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. A pair of bills recently introduced in the Delaware Legislature could give thousands of people across the state the second chance they deserve. Senate Bill 111 and Senate Bill 112, companion bills that are making their way through the General Assembly, adjust the types of offenses eligible for expungement and create a system for automatically expunging records of individuals who have remained crime-free for a long period of time.

The first bill, SB 111, provides that individuals with criminal records who are currently eligible for mandatory expungement under Delaware law will be eligible for automatic expungement.

Similar “Clean Slate” bills have passed with broad bipartisan support in Pennsylvania, Utah and Michigan. It’s no surprise. Polling shows that 70% of Americans support these common-sense bills because they are a win for everyone. The argument in favor of passage is especially strong in Delaware, where current law already mandates many expungements. By automating this process, Delaware can save taxpayer dollars while providing expungement to everyone who is eligible under the law, regardless of their ability to pay.

The second bill, SB 112, would authorize mandatory expungement for a small number of additional offenses that present no risk to public safety. This makes common sense, too. Delaware lawmakers have already determined that certain types of serious crimes can never be removed from a person’s record. SB 112 does not alter this list. Instead, this bill adds offenses like marijuana possession, underage drinking, and other miscellaneous drug and property crimes to the list of offenses that are eligible for mandatory expungement. These are not the types of criminal records that should require judicial time and thought. Research shows that if a person living with this type of criminal record stays crime-free for several years, they are not likely to reoffend. Once someone who has a low-level record has paid their debt to society, and has spent several years as a law-abiding member our community, we ought to help them move forward with their lives.

Taken together, these bills are also good for the Delaware economy. It is well-known that obtaining stable employment is a key factor to reducing recidivism, yet too many people living with criminal records continue to be left out of the workforce. Studies show that individuals without criminal records are 63% more likely to get a job interview, and that just one year after obtaining an expungement, a person’s earning potential goes up by 20%.

As people return to our workforce, these bills can help level the playing field and make it easier for people to get back to work. Everyone makes mistakes, but when someone has turned their life around, it benefits us all to help that person move forward. Senate Bills 111 and 112 provide the people of Delaware with that important chance.

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