New research report: Four Years of Second Chance Reforms, 2013-2016


4 year report coverSince 2013, almost every state has taken at least some steps to chip away at the negative effects of a criminal record on an individual’s ability to earn a living, access housing, education and public benefits, and otherwise fully participate in civil society.  It has not been an easy task, in part because of the volume and complexity of state and federal laws imposing collateral consequences.  To encourage employers and other decision-makers to give convicted individuals a fair chance, some states have enacted or modified judicial restoration mechanisms like expungement, sealing, and certificates of relief.  Others have extended nondiscrimination laws, limited criminal record inquiries, and facilitated front-end opportunities to avoid conviction.

In partnership with the NACDL Restoration of Rights Project, the CCRC maintains a comprehensive and current state-by-state guide to mechanisms for restoration of rights and status after conviction.  As a part of keeping that resource up to date, we have inventoried measures enacted and policies adopted by states in the past four years to mitigate or avoid the disabling effects of a criminal record, and present it here as a snapshot of an encouraging national trend.

Summary of findings

Between 2013 and 2016, forty-two states and the District of Columbia adopted significant reforms of various types.  The most common of these reforms are ban-the-box laws and policies that prohibit employers from inquiring into an applicant’s criminal history during the initial stages of the application process.  Twenty-one states banned the box in public employment, and eight (CT, DC, IL, MN, NJ, OR, RI, and VT) expanded their ban-the-box prohibitions to cover private employers as well.

Expungement and sealing authorities were also expanded in a significant number of states. Arkansas, Indiana, and Minnesota enacted comprehensive new expungement/sealing schemes that grant many individuals an opportunity to have their records sealed from public view and/or rights restored for the first time.  Additionally, California, Illinois, KentuckyLouisiana, and Missouri all expanded existing expungement/sealing laws to make certain felonies eligible.  MarylandPennsylvania, and South Dakota enacted entirely new authorities limiting public access to misdemeanor records. Another fifteen states expanded existing expungement or sealing opportunities, either to increase the number and type of eligible offenses and dispositions, or to broaden the protections afforded to, or rights restored by, an expunged or sealed record. Unfortunately, stiff filing fees in states like Louisiana and Kentucky will inevitably discourage people of limited means from taking advantage of these new authorities.

Judicial and/or administrative “certificates of relief” were also made available in nine states for the first time. These certificates adhere to a “forgiving,” as opposed to “forgetting,” model of criminal record mitigation. The new certificates with the broadest application and effect are those in Ohio and Vermont, both of which are modeled after provisions in the Uniform Collateral Consequences of Conviction Act (UCCCA) that authorize courts to completely remove specified mandatory collateral consequences imposed by law, allowing individuals to be considered for employment or licensing opportunities on the merits. Colorado’s new “order of collateral relief” provides relief from mandatory consequences specified in the order, with exceptions, but is only available for non-prison sentences. The new certificate authorities in most other states either protect employers and/or other private entities from negligent hiring or retention claims based solely upon their agent’s conviction, or prohibit employers or licensing bodies from denying applicants “based solely upon” their conviction.  The effect or availability of pre-existing certificate authorities were expanded in another three states.

Another notable trend was the expansion of the effect and availability of deferred adjudication and diversion mechanisms, which allow individuals to avoid conviction altogether following successful completion of probation or other conditions. Five states (AL, CA, DE, GA, NJ) enacted legislation explicitly authorizing expungement or sealing of deferred adjudication records for the first time, while Colorado and Illinois enacted entirely new deferred adjudication authority.  These programs provide a great benefit to those who can take advantage of them, but, in many states, prosecutorial control of these programs can result in disparate treatment and costly relief.

>>View the full report below or download here<<