Testimony from:
Sarah Anderson, Associate Director, Criminal Justice and Civil Liberties, R Street Institute

R Street Testimony in Support of HB 352 “Establishes provisions relating to expungement”

March 27, 2023

Missouri House Judiciary Committee

Chairman Evans and members of the committee,

My name is Sarah Anderson, and I am the associate director of criminal justice and civil liberties at the R Street Institute, which is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, public policy research organization. Our mission is to engage in policy research and outreach to promote free markets and limited, effective government in many areas, including criminal justice reform, and that is why HB 352 is of special interest to us.[1]

As the old adage goes, “If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.” And while there is certainly much to be said for the need to hold offenders accountable for their actions, it is not always—or ever—that simple. The reality of our criminal justice system does not leave room for such a limited understanding of punishment and justice. Regardless of the crime and imposed sentence, the effects of a criminal record make actual “time served” in many cases feel like a punishment for life.

From hiring practices and housing applications to processes for attaining housing and acquiring professional licenses, the stigma of a criminal record showing up on all-too-prevalent background checks often impedes the ability of fully rehabilitated individuals to provide for themselves, instead imposing barriers to successful, crime-free lives.[2]

Such a reality poses myriad challenges for Missourians, primarily including public safety and economic prosperity. Thankfully, clean slate policy, as reflected in HB 352, is shown to address these challenges head-on by smartly breaking down the barriers created by criminal records through automatic sealing and expungement of certain records.[3] In line with national averages, approximately 1.8 million people in Missouri—or nearly one-third of the total population—have criminal records.[4]

However, in Missouri, research has found that less than 1 percent of those currently eligible to have those records sealed are able to do so due to the onerous process.[5] This is a direct threat to public safety and the economy, as an inefficient and inaccessible record-sealing process locks individuals out of the best employment opportunities for them, and employment—or lack thereof—is one of the primary indicators of repeat offending. Existing research indicates that record sealing significantly increases an individual’s employment opportunities as well as wage earnings by 11 percent and 22 percent, respectively.[6] In addition, studies show that having a record reduces employer callback rates by 50 percent, contributing to the dramatically higher unemployment rates of those with records.[7]

The clean slate policy included in HB 352 requires that eligible offenses—which fully excludes violent crimes and higher-level offenses—for individuals who remain crime free for a designated period of time be automatically sealed or expunged, which is in line with research.[8] Individuals who remain crime free for only a handful of years after completing their sentences have rearrest rates no higher than the rest of the public.[9] After such a point, it becomes counterproductive not to clear records.

Because 95 percent of individuals currently incarcerated will be returning home to our communities, it is imperative that we be in the best position to accept their return and help them succeed, for the sake of public safety and economic prosperity.[10] One of the best ways to ensure successful community integration is to take the extremely complicated, costly and burdensome process of record sealing and expungement petitions off the plate of returning citizens and instead automate the process. For these reasons, we strongly urge you to support HB 352.

Thank you,

Sarah Anderson
Associate Director, Criminal Justice and Civil Liberties
R Street Institute
[email protected]

[1] HB 352, “Establishes provisions relating to expungement,” Missouri House of Representatives, 102nd General Assembly, 1st Regular Session. https://house.mo.gov/bill.aspx?bill=HB352&year=2023&code=R.

[2] David Thacher, “The Rise of Criminal Background Screening in Rental Housing,” Law & Social Inquiry 33:1 (Winter 2008), pp. 5-30. https://www.jstor.org/stable/20108747; J.J. Prescott and Sonja Starr, “The Power of a Clean Slate,” Cato Institute, Summer 2020. https://www.cato.org/regulation/summer-2020/power-clean-slate#background-criminal-records-and-engagement; Marsha Weissman et al., “The Use of Criminal History Records in College Admissions: Reconsidered,” Center for Community Alternatives, February 2020. http://www.communityalternatives.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/use-of-criminal-history-records-reconsidered.pdf; Chidi Umez and Rebecca Pirius, “Barriers to Work: Improving Employment in Licensed Occupations for Individuals with Criminal Records,” National Conference of State Legislatures, June 2022. https://compacts.csg.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/06/criminalRecords_v06_web.pdf

[3] Christi M. Smith, “The Pathway to Prosperity: How Clean Slate Legislation Enhances Public Safety and Stimulates the Economy,” R Street Policy Study No. 279 (March 2023). https://www.rstreet.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/r-street-policy-study-no-279-R4.pdf.

[4] Colleen Chien et al., “The Missouri Second Chance Expungement Gap,” The Paper Prisons Initiative, last accessed March 27, 2023. https://www.paperprisons.org/states/pdfs/reports/The%20Missouri%20Second%20Chance%20Expungement%20Gap.pdf; “Americans with Criminal Records,” The Sentencing Project, August 2022. https://www.sentencingproject.org/app/uploads/2022/08/Americans-with-Criminal-Records-Poverty-and-Opportunity-Profile.pdf.

[5] “Americans with Criminal Records.” https://www.sentencingproject.org/app/uploads/2022/08/Americans-with-Criminal-Records-Poverty-and-Opportunity-Profile.pdf.

[6] Alfred Blumstein and Kiminori Nakamura, “Extension of Current Estimates of Redemption Times: Robustness Testing, Out-of-State Arrests, and Racial Differences,” Office of Justice Programs, November 2012. https://www.ojp.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/240100.pdf; Sonja Starr and J.J. Prescott, “Michigan Set-Asides Found to Increase Wages and Reduce Recidivism,” Federal Sentencing Reporter 30:4-5 (April 1, 2018), pp. 361-362. https://online.ucpress.edu/fsr/article-abstract/30/4-5/361/96141/Michigan-Set-Asides-Found-to-Increase-Wages-and?redirectedFrom=fulltext; “About the Campaign,” Missouri Clean Slate Campaign, last accessed March 27, 2023. https://www.mocleanslate.org/about.

[7] 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

[8]  Deborah Van Fleet, “MO ‘Clean Slate’ Bill Would Make ‘Expungement’ Automatic,” Public News Service, March 23, 2023. https://www.publicnewsservice.org/2023-03-23/criminal-justice/mo-clean-slate-bill-would-make-expungement-automatic/a83649-1.

[9] Alfred Blumstein and Kiminori Nakamura, “‘Redemption’ in an Era of Widespread Criminal Background Checks,” National Institute of Justice Journal 263 (June 2009), pp. 10-17. https://www.ojp.gov/pdffiles1/nij/226872.pdf.

[10] Office of Minority Health, “Reentry Resources,” U.S. Department of

Health and Human Services, last accessed March 27, 2023. https://www.minorityhealth.hhs.gov/omh/content.aspx?ID=10326#:~:text=Nearly%20everyone%20who%20goes%20to,reentry%20and%20reintegration%20are%20not.