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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COVID-19: State-by-state resources on how to use the pardon power

At this time of pandemic, we have been following the discussions of how jail, prison, and immigration detention conditions are highly concerning, including the very useful collection of links provided by Professor Doug Berman, the demands published by advocacy organizations, and the collection of policy responses by the Prison Policy Initiative.  We agree that every available legal mechanism must be enlisted to secure the release of prisoners and detainees who pose little or no threat to public safety, and whose health and safety are themselves severely threatened by their enforced captivity.  This includes the great constitutional powers given to governors and pardon boards.  We therefore commend our newly revised pardon resources to advocates and policy makers to support their advocacy and action.

While our pardon-related research focuses primarily on how the power is used to restore rights and status to those who are no longer in prison, much of our information about how the pardon process is structured and operates is relevant to how the power might be used (or is already being used) to commute prison sentences during the pandemic.  Our revised pardon resources are part of a major revision of the CCRC Restoration of Rights Project, not only to make sure its information is current in light of the many recent changes in the law, but also reorganizing and revising its resources for clarity and easier access.  In the process, we have updated and revamped our state-by-state material on how the pardon process operates in each jurisdiction, noting that the process has become more regular and productive in a few states in the past several years.

Our 50-state pardon comparison is organized into four sections:

  • Section 1 provides a chart comparing pardon policy and practice across jurisdictions.
  • Section 2 lists jurisdictions by frequency and regularity of their pardon grants.
  • Section 3 sorts jurisdictions by how the administration of the power is structured.
  • Section 4 provides state-by-state summaries of pardon policy and practice, with links to more detailed analysis and legal citations.

We hope this information will be helpful to advocates across the country as we work to keep all people safe and healthy, including those in our prisons and jails.

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 immigration consequences and driver’s license suspension

This is the fifth and final comment on new 2019 laws restoring rights or delivering record relief.  The laws included cover immigration consequences, driver’s licenses, pardon procedures, and several miscellaneous topics.  The full report on 2019 laws is available here.

Immigration consequences

In 2019, four states took steps enabling non-citizens charged with offenses to avoid deportation based on sentence or guilty plea.  Colorado, New York, and Utah capped prison sentences for misdemeanors at 364 days, to avoid mandatory deportation based on a one-year prison sentence, with the first two states giving the law retroactive effect.  New York also restricted the dissemination of certain criminal record information to federal immigration authorities.  Oregon revised its law on deferred judgments to prohibit guilty pleas that would trigger deportability.  Oregon also, along with Nevada, regulated the questioning of criminal defendants or detained individuals about their immigration status.

  • Colorado passed three laws aimed at mitigating the immigration consequences of conviction.   The first two relate to mandatory deportation for state misdemeanors carrying a potential one-year sentence.  See 8 U.S.C. § 1227(a)(2).  To avoid this consequence, Colorado reduced the maximum jail sentence for various offenses from one year to 364 days. (HB 1148; HB 1263).  Colorado also authorized individuals to withdraw guilty pleas where they had pled guilty pursuant to a deferred adjudication or drug offense dismissal scheme, and thereby unknowingly exposed themselves to immigration consequences (federal immigration law treats such pleas as convictions, even though state law may not, see 8 U.S.C. §§ 1101(a)(48)(A), 1227(a)(2)) (S 30).
  • New York not only capped misdemeanor penalties at 364 days, but it gave the provision retroactive effect by authorizing resentencing in cases where the penalty originally imposed would result in “severe collateral consequences.”  (S 1505).  In addition, New York barred access by federal immigration authorities to some motor vehicle records, which may include criminal record information (A3675).
  • Utah reduced the maximum prison term for misdemeanors to “one year with a credit for one day,” but made no provision for retroactive application (HB 244).
  • Oregon removed a guilty plea requirement from the controlled substances diversion statute, making this benefit available to non-citizens without exposing them to deportation (HB 3201).  The law specifically provides that “[e]ntering into a probation agreement does not constitute an admission of guilt” and is “not sufficient to warrant a finding or adjudication of guilt by a court.”  As noted in the diversion section, however, the bill added a provision requiring defendants to agree to pay restitution to victims and court-appointed counsel fees as a condition of participation, with no provision for waiver.  Another new Oregon law prohibits a criminal court from inquiring about a defendant’s immigration status, and requires the court to allow a defendant additional time to consider a plea after being informed of immigration consequences (HB 2932).  Last year Oregon limited sentences for minor crimes to 364 days to avoid deportation (much as Colorado, New York and Utah did this year).
  • Nevada passed a law prohibiting anyone from questioning a person in a jail or other detention facility about their immigration status, unless they first informed the detainee of the purpose of the questioning (AB 376).

In addition, Indiana reduced selected misdemeanors to non-criminal civil infractions, taking them out ac riminal category, and avoiding immigration consequences (SB 336).

Driver’s License Suspension 

Six states repealed laws mandating suspension of a driver’s license for non-driving offenses.

  • Mississippi (HB 1352) and New York (S 1505) repealed provisions making loss of a driver’s license a mandatory penalty for a drug crime.
  • Montana (HB 217) and Virginia (HB 1700) repealed laws mandating suspension of a driver’s license for failure to pay court costs.
  • New Jersey addressed both of these issues, repealing provisions mandating suspension of driver’s licenses for conviction of drug and other crimes, and for failure to pay court debt (S1080).
  • Florida modified or deleted provisions for driver’s license suspension or revocation for underage tobacco and alcohol sales or consumption, misdemeanor theft, and drug crimes (HB 7125).Fla. Stat. §§ 569.11, 877.112, 562.11, 562.111, 812.0155, 322.055, 322.056.

In addition, Minnesota authorized cities and counties to create a driver’s license reinstatement diversion program (SF 8).

Housing discrimination

Illinois extended two laws, including its Human Rights Law, to bar private parties’ reliance on certain criminal records to deny housing.  Previously both laws applied only to employment.

  • Illinois barred housing discrimination through an amendment to its Human Rights Law to prohibit discrimination based on “arrest record” in any “real estate transaction,” including both rental and sale of real property. The term “arrest record” was defined to include non-conviction records, juvenile adjudications, and sealed or expunged convictions.  (SB1780).  (This same enactment also extended the Law’s employment discrimination provisions to non-conviction records, since the other categories of records were already covered.)
  • Illinois also extended the effect of its certificate of good conduct to lift mandatory licensing and housing bars, in additional to employment bars. (SB 3580).  However, a certificate of good conduct does not limit any employer, landlord, judicial proceeding, administrative, licensing, or other body, board, or authority from accessing criminal background information; nor does it hide, alter, or expunge the record.  Nor does the existence of a certificate of good conduct does not preclude a landlord or an administrative, licensing, or other body, board, or authority from retaining full discretion to grant or deny the application for housing or licensure.

Pardon procedure 

Nevada and South Dakota took steps to further streamline their already productive pardon systems.

  • The Nevada legislature proposes to repeal a requirement in the state constitution that the governor must approve all clemency grants by the Board of Pardons Commissioners, on which the governor sits as a member (SJR 1A). This proposal, which also requires the Board to meet at least quarterly, must be approved by popular vote in 2020.
  • The South Dakota legislature authorized a hearing panel of the Board of Pardons to make clemency recommendations to the governor, rather than the entire Board as under preexisting law. (HB1005).

Miscellaneous relief provisions

Among the more notable miscellaneous collateral consequences provisions enacted in 2019 is Utah’s new law giving courts new authority to terminate sex offender registration obligations, and loosening restrictions on driver’s licenses for people on the registry.  Another interesting new law is Connecticut’s establishment of a high-level study group to make recommendations on reducing various forms of discrimination based on criminal history.

  • Utah loosened restrictions on registered sex offenders, including rescinding a requirement that they renew driver’s licenses annually, expanding the number of offenses that qualify for removal from the registry after 5 years, and enacting a new provision authorizing the court to terminate registration after 10 years (HB298).
  • Connecticut established a “Council on the Collateral Consequences of a Criminal Record,” composed of high-ranking members of the legislature and the executive branch and representatives of advocacy groups and unions, and charged it with making recommendations by February 1, 2020, for legislation to reduce or eliminate discrimination based on criminal history (HB6921).
  • Louisiana relaxed restrictions on fostering and adoption for people with convictions (HB 112).
  • New York outlawed release of booking information and “mugshots” by police departments without a law enforcement purpose (S1505).

Ohio governor establishes expedited pardon process

On December 3, Governor Mike DeWine announced an initiative that promises to revive the pardon power in Ohio and bring much-needed relief from collateral consequences to many hundreds of deserving individuals convicted over the years in that state.  The Expedited Pardon Project, a collaboration between the Governor’s Office and the Drug Enforcement Policy Center at Ohio State University and the Reentry Clinic at The University of Akron School of Law, aspires to expedite the process by which people apply for a pardon under Ohio’s laws by enlisting law students to assist in preparing pardon applications.  Once petitions are filed, the formal pardon process prescribed by statute will be collapsed into a period of months, with final action by the governor in less than a year.

This initiative could elevate Ohio into the small group of states that have productive and regular pardon programs, including states like Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia and South Carolina, where duly constituted pardon boards (some entirely independent of the governor) preside over programs that issue hundreds of pardons every year, granting relief to a high percentage of individuals that apply.  Another handful of states, including Arkansas, Nebraska, and Nevada, have somewhat smaller pardon programs but still issue between 50 and 100 grants each year.  With this expedited initiative, Ohio could quickly join their ranks, supplementing the state’s limited judicial sealing and certificate laws in furthering the goals of restoration and reintegration.  It could also make the Ohio pardon process one of the most efficient in the nation.

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Bumper crop of new expungement laws expected in 2019

Earlier this year we reported that, in 2018, legislatures enacted an unprecedented number of new laws aimed at restoring rights and opportunities for people with a criminal record.  (Last year 32 states, D.C., and the U.S. Virgin Islands enacted 61 new laws to facilitate reentry and reintegration.)  The first quarter of 2019 has already produced a baker’s dozen of new restoration laws, some quite significant, indicating that this year is likely to be every bit as productive as last.  The 13 new laws enhance access to record-clearing relief, occupational licensing and employment, and executive clemency.  Also notable, if only for the sheer number of people who will benefit when the law goes into effect on July 1, is the Virginia legislature’s accession to Governor Ralph Northam’s request that it “eliminate[] the unfair practice of revoking a person’s driver’s license for failure to pay court fines and fees,” which will immediately reinstate driving privileges to more than 627,000 Virginians.

This year to date, state lawmakers have focused most of their attention on improving access to record-clearing: 8 of the 13 new laws expand eligibility for expungement and sealing and streamline applicable procedures.  The two most significant new laws were enacted in Western states.  Utah’s HB 431—signed by Governor Gary Herbert on March 28, 2019—provides for automated sealing relief for certain non-conviction, infraction, and misdemeanor conviction records.  When it takes effect on May 1, 2020, it will be the nation’s second “clean slate” law in operation (Pennsylvania’s first-in-the-Nation 2018 clean slate law will be implemented over a 12-month period beginning in June 2019).  Utah also clarified that employers may not ask about—and an applicant for employment need not disclose—expunged convictions (except under narrow exceptions for public employment).

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PA’s new pardon chief was just pardoned himself

Freed from prison nine years ago, Brandon Flood is new secretary of Pa.’s pardon board

Philadelphia Inquirer, April 7, 2019

by Will Bunch

This column will probably come as something of a shock to all the people in Harrisburg who only know Brandon Flood – a bow-tied, bespectacled policy wonk with sartorial flair – as the persona that he laughingly calls “Urkel Brandon,” in a homage to one of TV’s most famous nerds.

Flood, now 36, readily admits most folks who know him from nearly a decade as a legislative aide or lobbyist will be shocked to learn of his past that includes boot camp for juvenile offenders, a physical scuffle with Harrisburg’s then-police chief, and finally felony convictions and two lengthy prison stints for dealing crack cocaine and carrying an unlicensed gun.

But starting last week, Flood’s turnaround saga has become a talking point and a mission statement for his new job as secretary of the five-member Pennsylvania Board of Pardons – anchoring one leg of a broader push in Harrisburg for criminal justice reform, aimed at giving more convicted felons a chance for clemency or to wipe their slate clean with a pardon.

What makes Flood’s appointment even more remarkable is that – to steal a phrase from TV infomercial lore – he’s not just Pennsylvania’s new top pardons administrator, he’s also a client. Gov. Wolf signed off on Flood’s own board-approved pardon, erasing his past convictions, just a few weeks before Flood stepped in as secretary.

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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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“Executive Clemency in the United States”

This is the title of CCRC Executive Director Margaret Love’s new article for the Oxford Research Encyclopedia.  The article describes the historic role played by the executive pardon power in reducing punishments (including collateral ones) and explains clemency’s diminished vitality and reliability in modern times in most states and in the federal system.  Love concludes that “[i]t appears unlikely that an unregulated and unrestrained executive power will ever be restored to its former justice-enhancing role, so that those concerned about fairness and proportionality in criminal punishments must engage in the more demanding work of democratic reform.”

Here’s the abstract:

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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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