Upgrades to the Restoration of Rights Project

We are pleased to announce the completion of a major project to upgrade our flagship resource, the Restoration of Rights Project (RRP).  The RRP is a free on-line compendium of legal research that describes and analyzes the laws and practices relating to criminal record relief in the United States.  The improvements we have made will make it easier for our readers to gain both a snapshot and more detailed understanding of how record relief laws and policies operate within each of the 50 states, D.C., 2 territories, and the federal system.  They will also facilitate comparisons of how different states address various types of relief, producing a national-level picture against which each state can measure its progress.

This major undertaking was a collaboration between CCRC staff and four students at Yale Law School: Jordan Dannenberg, Kallie Klein, Jackson Skeen, and Tor Tarantola.  We thank these students, as well as YLS Professor Kate Stith, for their excellent contributions to our mission of promoting public engagement on the issues raised by the collateral consequences of arrest or conviction.

The state-by-state profiles, summaries and 50-state comparison charts from the RRP are what we rely on in preparing periodic and year-end summary reports on new legislation, which we track and add to the RRP in real time throughout the year.  The research and analysis in the RRP also informs our commentary on everything from new court decisions and scholarship to politics and practice, as well as the amicus briefs we file from time to time in significant litigation.  It is the foundation of our work on model legislation.  The RRP provided the raw material for a national overview report of record relief laws and policies, Forgiving and Forgetting in American Justice, which was last revised in August 2018.  Because of this report’s value in identifying overall patterns and emerging trends, we are already at work bringing it up to date with the more than 200 new laws passed since it was last revised.

Through the upgrade project we reorganized and expanded the RRP in three major ways.

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Prosecutors’ role in deciding how long people stay in prison

A timely new article from CCRC board member Nora V. Demleitner, law professor at Washington and Lee University, considers the central role of prosecutors in determining who goes to jail and prison and how long they stay there.  Demleitner reviews—as a “case study of prosecutorial authority”—prosecutors’ actions to reduce confined populations during the COVID-19 crisis.  While prosecutors’ key role in charging and sentencing at the front end of a criminal case is well-established, in ordinary times their influence in its later stages, including in prison release decisions, is not so obvious.  Professor Demleitner shows how the pandemic “highlights the tools prosecutors have at their disposal and how they can directly impact the size of the criminal justice system.”  This in turn leads her to consider how “prosecutorial thinking” focused on public safety as opposed to public health “increasingly influences other branches of government” even in the midst of a pandemic.

Professor Demleitner’s article, “State Prosecutors at the Center of Mass Imprisonment and Criminal Justice Reform,” will be published in the April 2020 issue of the Federal Sentencing Reporter.  The abstract is included below:

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Report Card: Grading states on 2019 record reforms

The following is an excerpt from our recent annual report on legislative reforms, Pathways to Reintegration: Criminal Record Reforms in 2019.

Report Card

For the first time this year we have prepared a “Report Card” on how state legislatures performed in 2019 in advancing the goals of reintegration.  We have not covered all states, only those we thought most and least productive.  We hope this new feature of our annual reports will provide an incentive to legislatures across the nation, and a tool for legislative advocates.

New Jersey gets the top mark as Reintegration Champion of 2019 for the most consequential legislative record of any state last year.

In this inaugural year, New Jersey gets the top mark as Reintegration Champion of 2019 for the most consequential legislative record of any state last year.  New Jersey’s “Clean Slate” law authorized an automated record-clearing process for many thousands of misdemeanor and felony convictions going back decades, and extended eligibility and improved procedures for petition-based discretionary expungement  relief.  New Jersey enacted two other important laws promoting reintegration.  One limited felony disenfranchisement to people in prison, immediately restoring the vote to about 80,000 people still completing their sentences in the community.  Unlike the executive orders that have this effect in New York and Kentucky, New Jersey’s law will not be easily retracted when the statehouse changes hands.  Another new law repealed provisions mandating suspension of driver’s licenses for conviction of drug and other non-driving crimes, for failure to pay court debt, and for failure to pay child support.

In commending New Jersey’s legislative accomplishments, we would be remiss not to recognize the key role played by Governor Phil Murphy in making criminal record reform the cornerstone of his legislative agenda, and by key legislative leaders, who together persuaded the legislature to enact in a single year a bolder set of reintegration laws than any other in the country to the present time.[i]

As runner-up, Colorado enacted 10 laws on criminal records, voting rights, ban-the-box, and immigration.

Colorado is runner up for our new Reintegration Champion award, based on a prolific legislative record that is a close second to New Jersey’s.  In 2019 Colorado enacted ten record reform laws, among them an ambitious rewriting of its code chapter on criminal records, a law restoring voting rights to parolees and one extending ban-the-box to private employers, and two new measures to avoid deportation as a consequence of conviction. Colorado’s productive 2019 followed an almost equally productive 2018, when its legislature regulated occupational licensing agencies and gave its courts authority to remove mandatory collateral penalties.

Honorable mention goes to 6 states (IL, MS, NV, NM, ND, WV) for productive legislative seasons, while 5 other states (AR, DE, CA, NY, UT) were recognized for a specific notable new law.    

Honorable mention for a productive legislative season goes to six states: Illinois and Nevada (with nine and eight laws, respectively, some significant); New Mexico and North Dakota (for their comprehensive first-ever record-sealing schemes, and ban-the-box bills);  Mississippi (for its extensive regulation of occupational licensing, management of diversion courts, and repeal of mandatory driver’s license penalties for drug and other non-driving crimes); and West Virginia (for two significant laws, on record relief and occupational licensing, as well as a diversion bill).  Five additional states deserve recognition for notable enactments:  Arkansas for a major revision of its occupational licensing law; California and Utah for their automated record relief laws (though Utah’s scheme is not as far-reaching as New Jersey’s, and California’s is prospective only); New York for two measures to limit access to undisposed (pending) cases; and Delaware for its first comprehensive expungement scheme.

Low marks go to three of the seven states that enacted no record reform laws at all in 2019: the legislatures of Alaska, Georgia, and Michigan have been the least productive in the land in recent years where restoration of rights and status is concerned.  Kansas, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania also produced no new laws in 2019, but all four states enacted major record reforms in 2018 so we give them a pass.

We conclude by noting that many of the states not mentioned in this inaugural Report Card made progress last year in limiting access to and use of criminal records, and we were hard-pressed not to single a few more of them out for credit.  It is clear to us that almost every state sees criminal record reform as an important and challenging legislative agenda.  We anticipate that in 2020 states that have been comparatively cautious in their recent law-making will be inspired to take larger steps as they see what more ambitious jurisdictions have already been able to accomplish.

Note: In response to this report, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy tweeted:

Read the full report here.

[i] See, e.g., Governor Murphy’s statement accompanying his “conditional veto” in August 2019 of an early version of the bill that would become the Clean Slate law that he signed on December 19, 2019.  In that statement, after applauding the legislature’s extension of eligibility for petition-based expungement, he noted the example set by Pennsylvania’s own Clean Slate law the year before:

“Only those individuals who actually apply for an expungement, meaning those who are aware of this potential remedy and have the wherewithal to navigate the legal process or afford an attorney to assist them, would be able to seek the relief afforded by the expungement process. This method is not the most efficient means for clean slate expungement, nor will it deliver relief to all eligible individuals who need it. To avoid this shortcoming, we should follow the lead of Pennsylvania and undertake the necessary steps to establish an automated, computerized expungement system that would allow people with multiple convictions for less serious, non-violent crimes who maintain a clean record for ten years to clear their criminal histories without having to hire a lawyer or wade through a paperwork-intensive process. Our system is not set up to do this now, and undertaking this task will require buy-in and commitment from all three branches of government. On behalf of the executive branch, that is a commitment I am more than willing to make.”

See https://www.state.nj.us/governor/news/news/562019/docs/S3205CV.pdf.  Senator Sandra Cunningham, Senate President Sweeney and Speaker Coughlin were particularly effective partners in the negotiations that resulted in the bill that was approved by the legislature in December.

CCRC reports on criminal record reforms in 2019

We are pleased to publish our annual report on criminal record reforms enacted during the past calendar year.  This is the fourth in a series of reports since 2016 on new laws aimed at avoiding or mitigating the collateral consequences of arrest and conviction.  This year we have included for the first time a Report Card grading the progress of the most (and least) productive state legislatures in 2019.  The press release accompanying the report is reprinted below:

Report finds record-breaking number of criminal record reforms enacted in 2019

February 17, 2020

Washington, D.C. — The Collateral Consequences Resource Center (CCRC) has released a new report documenting the astonishing number of laws passed in 2019 aimed at promoting reintegration for individuals with a criminal record.  Last year, 43 states, the District of Columbia, and the federal government enacted an extraordinary 153 laws to provide criminal record relief or to alleviate the collateral consequences of arrest and conviction, consequences that may otherwise last a lifetime and frequently have little or no public safety rationale. 

The year 2019 was the most productive legislative year since a wave of “fair chance” reforms began in 2013, a period CCRC has documented in a series of legislative reports (2013-2016, 2017, and 2018). 

CCRC’s 2019 report, titled “Pathways to Reintegration: Criminal Record Reforms in 2019,” is available here.

This report is our first to include a Report Card on how state legislatures performed during the year in advancing the goals of reintegration,” said CCRC Executive Director Margaret Love. “We wanted to recognize New Jersey as Reintegration Champion for having the most consequential legislative record in 2019, including three important new laws authorizing clean slaterecord relief, restoring voting rights, and curbing driver’s license suspensions.

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New 2019 laws on diversion and other non-conviction dispositions

This comment on new laws authorizing non-conviction dispositions is the fourth in a series of comments describing some of the 153 laws passed in 2019 restoring rights or delivering record relief.  The full report on 2019 laws is available here.

Diversionary and other non-conviction dispositions

In 2019, 18 states enacted 26 laws creating, expanding, reorganizing, or otherwise supporting diversionary and deferred dispositions, to enable individuals charged with criminal offenses to avoid a conviction record.  The 2019 enactments on diversionary dispositions reflect the clear trend across the country toward increasing opportunities to steer certain categories of individuals out of the system, through informal diversions, specialized treatment or intervention courts, or completing a deferred adjudication and probation period.  Laws enacted in 2019 extended this favorable treatment to juveniles, military service personnel and veterans, persons with mental illness, drug and alcohol users, human trafficking victims, caregivers of children, and even certain persons charged with sex offenses.

Of particular note, Colorado enacted a major revision of its juvenile records scheme, the second in three years, making almost all juvenile offenses eligible for diversion, and expungement automatic upon successful completion of diversion “without the need fora court order,” as long as the prosecutor or victim do not object.  Colorado also authorized funding for mental health diversion courts. Tennessee and Vermont also significantly expanded their programs of juvenile diversion, while Mississippi reorganized its system of specialized courts as “intervention courts.”  Oregon modified diversion to avoid deportation consequences of a guilty plea.  California enacted perhaps the most novel (and promising) diversion program we’ve seen in several years, authorizing the creation of pretrial diversion for primary caregivers of children,who are charged with a misdemeanor or non-serious felony offenses, except for offenses against the cared-after child.  These and other diversion laws are described briefly below:

  • Colorado enacted a major revision of its juvenile records scheme, the second in three years, making almost all juvenile offenses eligible for diversion, and expungement automatic upon successful completion “without the need for a court order.” See HB 1335, revising Colo. Rev. Stat. § 19-1-306(4)(b)(I). This law also authorized the court to discontinue sex offender registration.  Colorado also authorized funding for mental health diversion courts. (SB 211).   Colorado’s impressive record of legislating on criminal records issues in recent years, for adult as well as juvenile records, is described in detail in the state’s profile in the Restoration of Rights Project.
  • Tennessee addressed diversion both in the context of juveniles (HB 1319) and those charged with sex offenses (HB 624). The latter law revises provisions governing the circumstances under which a person’s name must be removed from the sex offender registry, to add successful completion of judicial diversion for certain offenses.  Juveniles will now be eligible for diversion not only after a plea, but also after an adjudication.   In its third new law affecting diversion, Tennessee rescinded the $350 filing fee for a defendant applying for expunction of an offense following the completion of a diversion program.  See HB941.
  • Vermont authorized its courts to expunge records of juvenile diversion cases after two years without a subsequent conviction, if restitution has been paid. See S105. While referral for juvenile diversion remains in the control of the district attorney, courts are authorized to impose a deferred sentence for a less serious crime even if the prosecutor objects. 13 V.S.A. § 7041.  This provision was amended by S105 to delete the age limits on the court’s authority under this section, so that it no longer applies only where the defendant is under 28 years of age.
  • Mississippi reorganized its system of specialized problem-solving courts (including drug courts, mental health courts, and veterans’ courts) as “intervention courts,” and made an Intervention Courts Advisory Committee responsible for coordinating the policies and operation of these courts through the State.  See HB 1352, Code Ann. §§ 9-23-1, 9-23-9.  These courts are primarily aimed at reducing the incidence of drug abuse as a driver of criminal behavior, but they are aimed at different populations and have differing eligibility requirements.   See, e.g., § 9-25-1 (veterans courts); § 9-27-7 (mental health courts).   These courts all offer the possibility that successful participants in their programs may avoid conviction and become eligible for expungement of the record upon successful completion.
  • Oregon enacted a law formalizing the terms of conditional discharge in controlled substance cases, specifically omitting the requirement under preexisting law that a defendant must first plead or be found guilty. (HB 3201).  Under the new law, a participant must enter into a “probation agreement” waiving various trial and appellate rights, and must agree to pay restitution and court-appointed attorney fees, with no provision for waiver, following an unfortunate practice of restricting the benefit of certain non-conviction dispositions to people who can pay for them.  The agreement “may not contain a requirement that the defendant enter a plea of guilty or no contest on any charge in the accusatory instrument,” a provision evidently intended to avoid the collateral consequences of a finding of guilt.  This law is also covered in the section on relief from immigration consequences.

In more incremental extensions of diversion:

  • California authorized the creation of pretrial diversion for primary caregivers of children,who are charged with a misdemeanor or non-serious felony offenses, except for offenses against the cared-after child. (SB 394). See Cal. Penal Code § 1001.83.
  • Missouri (HB 547) and Oregon (HB 2462) enacted laws aimed at giving service members and veterans the benefit of diversion.
  • Idaho (H78) and South Carolina (H3601) authorized diversion in DUI cases.
  • Texas expanded eligibility for deferred adjudication to victims of human trafficking (HB 2758), and created a family violence pretrial diversion pilot program in Bexar County (HB 3529), and authorized deferred adjudication for certain intoxication offenses (HB 3582).
  • Washington established a substance abuse diversion program (SB 5380), and authorized a law enforcement grant program to expand alternatives to arrest and jail processes (HB 1767).
  • Nebraska authorized restorative justice as a form or condition of diversion (LB595).
  • Nevada expanded eligibility for veterans and military service members specialty court programs (AB222).
  • Wyoming addressed diversion in its expansion of juvenile expungement in HB 44, discussed in the section on expungement.
  • Florida put in place a system of reporting for its various problem-solving courts (HB 7125).
  • Minnesota authorized cities and counties to create driver’s license reinstatement diversion programs (SF 8).
  • Rhode Island authorized superior court diversion programs (SB 962). See R.I. Gen. Laws § 8-2-39.3.
  • West Virginia established a specialized court program for military service members (SB 40).  See W. Va.Code §§ 62-16-1, et seq.