“More Justice and Less Harm: Reinventing Access to Criminal History Records”

This is the title of an important new article published by Alessandro Corda in the Howard Law Journal proposing a radical way of addressing the malign social impact of our current policies on public access to arrest and conviction records.  Corda traces the evolution of record dissemination policies and practices since the 1950s, contrasting the American and European experience where “informal collateral consequences” are concerned.  He critiques “partial remedial measures” like expungement and certificates of rehabilitation, and argues for making publication of a defendant’s record an “ancillary sanction” ordered (or not) by the court at sentencing.

While this solution may at first blush seem a bit ambitious, there are states (like Wisconsin) whose sentencing courts can offer the promise of set-aside and expungement upon successful completion of sentence, and that is indeed how the federal Youth Corrections Act operated before its repeal in 1984.

At the very least, Corda makes a convincing case that strong measures are necessary to mitigate the permanent stigma of a criminal record in the information age.  The historical and international material will be of particular value to those currently working on this problem in legislatures across the country.  Here is the abstract:

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Introducing the new Restoration of Rights Project

 

The Collateral Consequences Resource Center and its partner organizations, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the National Legal Aid and Defender Association, and the National HIRE Network, are pleased to announce the launch of the newly expanded and fully updated Restoration of Rights Project.

The Restoration of Rights Project is an online resource that offers state-by-state analyses of the law and practice in each U.S. jurisdiction relating to restoration of rights and status following arrest or conviction.   Jurisdictional “profiles” cover areas such as loss and restoration of civil rights and firearms rights, judicial and executive mechanisms for avoiding or mitigating collateral consequences, and provisions addressing non-discrimination in employment and licensing.  Each jurisdiction’s information is separately summarized for quick reference.   

In addition to the jurisdictional profiles, a set of 50-state comparison charts summarizes the law and illustrates national patterns in restoration laws and policies.   We expect to supplement these resources in weeks to come with jurisdiction-specific information about organizations that may be able to assist individuals in securing relief, and information on other third-party resources.

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National law reform proposal on collateral consequences

A long-running national law reform project that is reaching its final stages includes a broad and progressive scheme for dealing with the collateral consequences of conviction.  The American Law Institute (ALI), the nation’s oldest and most respected law reform organization, will meet in Washington on May 22-24 to approve a revision of the sentencing articles of the Model Penal Code, the first such revision in 60 years. The revised MPC: Sentencing includes an ambitious and comprehensive scheme for managing and limiting collateral consequences.  [NOTE: The MPC: Sentencing draft was given final approval by the ALI Annual Meeting on May 24.]

In commentary published last month on the ALI website, MPC Reporters Kevin Reitz and Cecelia Klingele discussed the role of sentencing commissions in managing collateral consequences under the MPC provisions, as well as its provisions relating to notice and relief.   As under the original 1962 Code, the 2017 Code gives the sentencing court the key roles in ensuring that defendants have an opportunity to overcome the adverse effects of collateral consequences.  The 2017 Code provisions also include an important role for sentencing commissions in establishing policy and practice for the courts. The commentary is well worth reading by anyone searching for innovative ways to lighten the burden of a criminal record.

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Montana just authorized expungement of adult convictions

For the first time in its history, Montana has enacted a law authorizing its courts to limitfish public access to adult conviction records. On April 13, Governor Steve Bullock signed into law House Bill 168, giving district courts the power to “expunge” the records of misdemeanor convictions after completion of sentence, effective October 1 of this year. This makes Montana the 30th state since 2012 to enact some form of record-closing law, or to expand an existing one. The possibility of full destruction of the record for all misdemeanor convictions makes Montana’s one of the more ambitious collateral consequences reform measures of the past several years.

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New York surprises with broad new sealing law

new-york-methodist-hospital-center-for-allied-health-education-7IMJb2-clipartLate Sunday night, the New York Senate finally passed the beleaguered 2017-18 budget bill, which was signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo the following day. And while the passage of the bill was good news to New Yorkers eager to avoid a government shutdown, it should be even better news to a significant number of New Yorkers with criminal convictions. Tucked away inside the massive bill is an unheralded provision creating the state’s first general sealing authority for adult criminal convictions. Previously, record sealing was available only for non-conviction records and diversion and drug treatment dispositions. Now sealing will be available for misdemeanors and all but the most serious felony offenses.

The new law, which takes effect in October, gives New York one of the most expansive record-closing authorities in the Nation, rivaling such traditional sealing centers as Massachusetts, Washington, and Minnesota.

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Second chance employment bill approved in West Virginia

CARDINAL_ownby1High drama on the final day of the West Virginia legislative session produced a last minute compromise between House and Senate over SB76, the WV Second Chance for Employment Act.  If the governor signs the bill into law, individuals convicted of non-violent felonies will be able to return to court after 10 years to have their convictions reduced to misdemeanors. [NOTE: The bill was signed into law on April 25.]

For several years the WV legislature has been considering how to improve employment opportunities for people with non-violent convictions, but the House and Senate had different ideas about how to do it.  The Senate approach would have expanded the state’s expungement law, which now applies only to youthful misdemeanors, while the House preferred reducing nonviolent felonies to misdemeanors.   As the seconds ticked toward midnight on April 8, the Senate agreed to accept the “forgiving” approach favored by the House, creating a new category of “reduced misdemeanor” that need not be reported on employment applications but will be reflected in background investigations.

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California set-aside enhances employment prospects

636054606033326119-1877630735_California-Outline-and-Flag-SolidSecond-chance mechanisms in California are working to increase the employment prospects and earning potential of Californians with criminal records according to a soon-to-be-published study by a team of researchers from U.C. Berkeley School of Law.

The study, by Jeffrey Selbin, Justin McCrary & Joshua Epstein, tracked over an eleven-year period the employment status and annual income of 235 Californians who had their convictions set aside or their offense level reduced from felony to misdemeanor, with the aid of the East Bay Community Law Center’s (EBCLC) Clean Slate Clinic.  The study finds a modest increase in the employment rate of those in the sample (most were already employed, albeit in low-wage jobs). More significantly, however, after three years their average real earnings increased by roughly a third.

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New national study finds ban-the-box policies generally effective

ban box b-roll_frame_16874A new nation-wide study of “ban-the-box” policies in public employment finds that they have been generally effective in increasing employment opportunities for people with a criminal record. Significantly, the study finds no evidence that these policies encourage reliance on racial stereotyping where public employment alone is concerned — though the author acknowledged, in an interview with the CCRC, that “the evidence is mixed” when private employment is also considered.

“Ban-the-box” policies, which delay employer inquiries about an applicant’s background until a later stage in the hiring process, have become a popular reform measure at least in part because it can be implemented on a systemic basis.  As of January 2017, there were 25 states, DC, and over 150 municipalities that had adopted ban-the-box policies, most of them applicable only to public sector employment.  But despite the increase in ban-the-box policies, little research has been done into their effectiveness in improving the employment prospects of justice-involved individuals. Some jurisdictions such as Atlanta, GA and Durham, NC have reported dramatic improvements in the percentage of convicted individuals hired. However, these local outcomes may not reflect the national experience.

Research on the effects of ban-the-box policies by Connecticut College economist Terry-Ann Craigie suggests that they have dramatically improved the public-sector employment prospects of individuals with a criminal record nation-wide. Professor Craigie also found that these salutary effects have generally not been offset by a corresponding increase in racial profiling. Overall, her study (whose results are not yet published) concludes that ban-the-box policies have increased the odds of getting a public sector job for those with a criminal record by close to 40%.

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District of Columbia clemency authority sought

On March 28, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) introduced a bill that would give the District of Columbia exclusive authority, like states and U.S. territories, to grant clemency for criminal convictions under its laws. The District of Columbia Home Rule Clemency Act is part of Norton’s “Free and Equal D.C.” series. While D.C. law appears to give the mayor authority to grant clemency (D.C. Code 1–301.76), the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has opined that the mayor’s clemency authority, if any, is very narrow, and that the President of the United States has authority to grant clemency in all D.C. criminal cases and exclusive authority for D.C. felonies. Under current practice, clemency petitions for D.C. convictions, like federal convictions, are submitted to the Department of Justice for the President’s consideration. In Norton’s bill, clemency includes pardons, reprieves, or commutations of sentence.

In introducing the bill, Norton said “The District, like states and territories, should have full control of its local criminal justice system, the most basic responsibility of local government. Since the D.C. Council has the authority to enact local laws, District officials are in the best position to grant clemency for local law convictions . . . .  This bill is an important step in establishing further autonomy for the District in its own local affairs.” Norton’s full introductory statement is below.  The text of H.R. 1765 has not yet been posted; we link the text of an earlier bill introduced by Congresswoman Norton in January 2016.

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“Ants under the refrigerator”

The following post is republished, with permission, from the National Clean Slate Clearinghouse listserv.  In it Sharon Dietrich points out that even after criminal records have been expunged or sealed, they may still be reported by commercial criminal record providers in violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act.   (See our recent 50-state survey of record-closing laws, with their intended effect.)


 

You probably are wondering, “What is she talking about, with a subject line like that?”  The answer to your thought is that I use this phrase when giving clients an important warning about the effect of their expungement orders.  I am illustrating for them the idea that I can’t guarantee removal of their expunged cases from every possible background check, especially those prepared by commercial screener such as Sterling, HireRight, First Advantage and countless others.

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