Eli Hager is a researcher at The Marshall Project, where he contributes to daily news coverage and collects pieces of journalism written by prisoners. Previously, he worked at Esperanza, an alternative sentencing program for court-involved youth in New York City.
The following thought-provoking piece about the growing popularity of judicial “certificates of good conduct” was first published in The Marshall Project (www.themarshallproject.org) a nonprofit news organization focused on the US criminal justice system. The “forgiving” approach to avoiding or mitigating collateral consequences is an important alternative to the “forgetting” approach advocated by proponents of expungement or sealing, which tend in any event to be limited to minor dated offenses or arrests not resulting in conviction.
For offenders seeking a new life, a new redemption tool.
In February of 2003, a much younger Barack Obama rose before the Illinois State Senate to introduce a new piece of legislation that, he said, contained a compromise. The bill would help job-seekers who had long ago been convicted of a nonviolent crime (or two, at most) overcome the barriers to employment that came with having a criminal history. But the bill would do so without expunging their records.
Instead, Obama’s bill would create a final, years-later stage on the timeline of these ex-offenders’ cases. They had already completed the stages of arrest, booking, indictment, plea bargaining or trial, sentencing, incarceration and/or probation. Now, ex-felons who had stayed crime-free for a few years would be eligible to come back to court and, in a full-blown hearing before a judge, attempt to “prove” that they had been rehabilitated.