California becomes third state to adopt “clean slate” record relief

On October 8, Governor Newsom signed into law AB 1076, authorizing automatic record relief in the form of set-aside or sealing for individuals with certain convictions and arrests under California law.  The new law supplements but does not supplant the existing system of petition-based relief, and applies to convictions and arrests occurring after the bill’s effective date of January 1, 2021.  Eligibility for automatic relief under the new law is similar to but not precisely coincident with eligibility under existing law.  The new law also for the first time prohibits courts and the state repository from disclosing information about conviction records that have been granted relief, except where specifically authorized, whether under the new automatic process or the older petition-based system.

California is now the third state to adopt general “clean slate” record relief, after Pennsylvania (2018) and Utah (2019).  While the automatic feature of the new law has prospective effect only, its limits on disclosure will, when effective, apply to all conviction records that have at any time been dismissed or set aside, whether automatically or by petition, as well as to all arrests and other non-conviction records that have been sealed.  The specific features of AB 1076 are described in detail in the following comment posted on October 3.

Governor Newsom also on October 8 signed two other bills that affect collateral consequences:  SB 310 amends Section 203 of California’s Code of Civil Procedure to make people convicted of a felony eligible to serve of a trial jury unless incarcerated or under supervision, or required to register as a sex offender based upon a felony conviction; and AB 1394 repeals a law requiring that juveniles pay a fee to have their records sealed.

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“Invisible Stripes: The Problem of Youth Criminal Records”

This is the title of a paper by Professor Judith McMullen of Marquette University Law School.  Professor McMullen points out that “the efforts of today’s young people to ‘go straight’ are hampered by nearly unlimited online access to records of even the briefest of encounters with law enforcement, even if those encounters did not result in conviction.”  She argues that “we need to restrict access to and use of information about contacts that offenders under the age of 21 have had with the criminal justice system.”

CCRC’s forthcoming study of how jurisdictions manage non-conviction records underscores the points made in this article.  It may come as a surprise to many that few jurisdictions automatically limit public access to and use of non-conviction records, and in fact many facilitate both through mass on-line posting of records – including arrests that never result in charges.  Even states that authorize courts to seal or expunge non-conviction records frequently impose daunting barriers to this relief, including financial barriers.  A decision of the Iowa Supreme Court last month, upholding a law conditioning expungement of dismissed charges on an indigent defendant’s payment of court-appointed attorney fees, vividly illustrates this access to justice problem that squarely frustrates efforts at reintegration.  There are a number of studies underway of the adverse effect of court debt on reentry, but none that we know of linking court debt to the operation of “clean slate” laws.

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Updated report on 2018 fair chance and expungement reforms

On January 10, 2019, we released a report documenting the extraordinary number of laws passed in 2018 aimed at reducing barriers to successful reintegration for individuals with a criminal record.  Since that time, we discovered five additional laws enacted in 2018 (in AL, PA, OR, MO, and the U.S. Virgin Islands), and have updated our report accordingly.

In 2018, 32 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands enacted at least 61 new laws aimed at avoiding or mitigating the collateral consequences of arrest and conviction, consequences that may otherwise last a lifetime. The CCRC report analyzes last year’s lawmaking and summarizes all 61 new authorities, which include 57 statutes, 3 executive orders, and one ballot initiative.

Last year saw the most productive legislative year since a wave of “fair chance” reforms began in 2013.  CCRC documented these earlier developments in reports on the 2013-2016 reforms and 2017 reforms.  In the period 2012–2018, every state legislature has in some way addressed the problem of reintegration.  Congress has not enacted any laws dealing with the problems presented by collateral consequences for more than a decade.

The state laws enacted in 2018 aim to break down legal and other barriers to success in the courts, the workplace, the pardon process, and at the ballot box:

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Press release: New report on 2018 fair chance and expungement reforms (updated)

Washington, D.C. — The Collateral Consequences Resource Center (CCRC) has released a new report documenting the extraordinary number of laws passed in 2018 aimed at reducing barriers to successful reintegration for individuals with a criminal record.  In the past twelve months, 32 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have enacted 61 new laws aimed at avoiding or mitigating the collateral consequences of arrest and conviction, consequences that may otherwise last a lifetime.  The CCRC report analyzes the past year’s lawmaking and summarizes all 61 new authorities, which include 57 statutes, 3 executive orders, and one ballot initiative.  The report, titled “Reducing Barriers to Reintegration: Fair chance and expungement reforms in 2018,” is available to download here

Last year saw the most productive legislative year since a wave of “fair chance” reforms began in 2013.  CCRC documented these earlier developments in reports on the 2013-2016 reforms and 2017 reforms.  In the period 2012–2018, every state legislature has in some way addressed the problem of reintegration.  Congress has not enacted any laws dealing with the problems presented by collateral consequences for more than a decade.

The state laws enacted in 2018 aim to break down legal and other barriers to success in the courts, the workplace, the pardon process, and at the ballot box:

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Common Application bans the box!

On August 7, 2018, the Common Application announced  that it is dropping the criminal history question from its college application form starting with 2019-2020 applicants.  Currently over 800 colleges and universities use the common application.  The criminal history question first appeared on the common application in 2006.  Individual colleges who are members of the Common Application will still be able to make inquiry on their own.

For the past decade, the Common Application has been under pressure from advocates, educators and the U.S. Education Department under the Obama administration to remove the criminal history question from its application form.  The call to remove the criminal history question from college applications first came from the Center for Community Alternatives (CCA) in its 2010 publication, The Use of Criminal History Records in College Admissions Reconsidered.  A second study with policy recommendation was published by CCA in collaboration with the Education from the Inside Out Coalition in 2015, Boxed Out: Criminal History Screening and College Application Attrition, and underscored the harm done by the use of the criminal history box on college applications.

As more colleges and universities have banned the box, the Common Application has been under growing pressure to abolish this discriminatory and counterproductive practice.  Removing barriers to the admission of students with criminal history records to higher education is one way to improve public safety, combat mass incarceration, and make reentry meaningful.

More states enact major “second chance” reforms

In recent weeks, three more states — Colorado, Louisiana and Vermont — have enacted laws intended to make it easier for people with a criminal record to find and keep employment, or otherwise to regain rights and status.

We are just now noting Wyoming’s enactment in March 2018 of general standards for professional and occupational licensure, which impose new restrictions on how criminal record may be taken into account by licensing agencies, and its amendment of more than a dozen specific licensing laws.

In the first five months of 2018 alone, a total of 21 states have enacted legislation to improve opportunities for people with a criminal record, with more similar laws evidently on the way.  States have enacted several different types of “second chance” laws this year, from expansion of voting rights to expansion of judicial authority to relieve collateral consequences at sentencing.

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Wisconsin joins crowd of states regulating occupational licensure

On April 16, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed into law Act 278, making his state the sixth in the past two months to establish new rules on consideration of criminal record in the context of occupational and professional licensure.  Effective August 1, 2018, licensing boards in Wisconsin will be prohibited in most cases from denying or revoking a license based on arrests or pending charges, and required to justify in writing any adverse action based on conviction.  Boards will also be required to give applicants a preliminary determination as to whether a particular conviction will be disqualifying.

Indiana, Arizona, Massachusetts, Nebraska and Tennessee have all recently enacted laws regulating how licensing boards treat arrests and convictions, in some cases with strikingly similar features, as described in recent posts here and here.  The conviction-related provisions of the model occupational licensing law proposed by the Institute for Justice are reflected in almost all of these new laws, though many of them go even farther to discourage unwarranted discrimination affecting as much as 25% of the U.S. workforce.   

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“The Juvenile Record Myth”

A new article in the Georgetown Law Journal exposes the fallacy that delinquency adjudications don’t follow juveniles into adulthood, and documents the alarming extent to which records of juvenile delinquency adjudications have become almost as accessible to the public as records of adult convictions.  In The Juvenile Record Myth, University of Tennessee Law Professor Joy Radice argues that state confidentiality and sealing provisions often provide far less protection than is commonly believed, and that juveniles frequently face continuing legal restrictions and stigma.   Almost all states permit some degree of public access, and some even publish juvenile records online.  Using recent literature on juvenile brain development and the recidivism research of criminologists, Radice presents new arguments for why delinquency records should not follow a juvenile into adulthood—and why the state’s obligation to help rehabilitate juveniles (an obligation typically recognized in a state’s juvenile code) should extend to restricting access to juvenile records.  The abstract of Professor Radice’s article is reprinted at the end of this post.

The state-by-state profiles from the Restoration of Rights Project analyze each state’s laws on access to records of juvenile adjudications.  These laws are summarized in the RRP’s 50-state-chart on expungement and sealing.

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Ban the other box – Suspension and expulsion shouldn’t be a bar to college

University application form

The following piece was originally published by The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization focused on the US criminal justice system.  Even though criminal records and school disciplinary records are entirely distinct, they both pose similar, often unjust, obstacles to higher education.  Consideration of both types of records in the admissions process can have the troubling effect of excluding qualified and motivated young people — particularly those from minority communities — from America’s colleges and universities because of past mistakes that have little to do with academic potential or the protection of public safety.

The story is familiar: a high school student grabs another student’s iPhone at lunch and tries to sell it. He is caught, arrested, and booked into juvenile hall. He is also suspended. If universities and colleges follow the recent recommendation of the Obama administration, colleges will not consider the student’s criminal record in the initial stages of the admissions process. These recommendations, contained in a recently released “Dear Colleague” letter by Education Secretary John B. King, represent a significant step in removing barriers to education for people with criminal records. And just this week, over a dozen colleges and universities signed on to the White House’s Fair Chance Higher Education Pledge.

Unfortunately, the letter and the pledge are silent about another common question on college applications: Have you ever been suspended or expelled from school? For the teenager who stole the phone, this means that while his criminal record may not ruin his chance to be admitted to college, his school disciplinary record just might.

More than 3 million students are either suspended or expelled from schools each year and when they are, a discipline record is generated. While the barriers created by criminal records have begun to receive much-needed attention, the barriers created by school discipline records have been largely overlooked. The Department of Education report that accompanies King’s letter mentions school records only in passing, without taking a firm position. Like criminal records, school discipline records can, and do, jeopardize young people’s chances to succeed. Like criminal records, school records are a scarlet letter.

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Second chance for some youthful sex offenders

On April 6, Arizona became the latest state to offer early relief from sex offender registration obligations to young people convicted of consensual sex offenses and sentenced to probation.  The law, HB 2539, allows individuals convicted before reaching age 22 of sexual conduct with a minor between the ages of 15 and 17 (so-called “Romeo and Juliet” offenders), to petition the court for relief from registration after completing probation.  If a petitioner meets all applicable criteria, the court must grant the petition unless it finds that a “denial is in the best interests of justice or tends to ensure the safety of the public.”  Similar laws authorizing early termination from registration for those convicted of youthful consensual offenses are in effect in ten other states, including Florida, Oregon, and Michigan.

Laws requiring young people to register have come under increased scrutiny thanks to recent media coverage of their harsh effects and flimsy justifications — notably an article by Sarah Stillman published last month in the New Yorker (“The List”).   Much of the attention to registry of juveniles has been driven by mobilization around the issue by advocacy groups like Reform Sex Offender Laws (RSOL) and the Center on Youth Registration Reform (CYRR).  In 2013, Human Rights Watch issued a ground-breaking report on the issue, Raised on the Registry.

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