Reintegration Champion Awards for 2021

Based on our annual report on 2021 criminal record reforms, the bipartisan commitment to a reintegration agenda keeps getting stronger. A majority of the 151 new laws enacted last year authorize courts to clear criminal records, in some states for the very first time, and several states enacted “clean slate” automatic record clearing.  Other new laws restore voting and other civil rights lost as a result of conviction, and still others limit how criminal record is considered by employers, occupational licensing agencies, and landlords.  (The report includes specific citations to each of the new laws, and they are analyzed in the larger context of each state’s reintegration scheme in our Restoration of Rights Project.)

Again this year we have published a Report Card recognizing the most (and least) productive legislatures in the past year. While more than a dozen states enacted noteworthy laws in 2021, two states stand out for the quantity and quality of their lawmaking:  Arizona and Connecticut share our 2021 Reintegration Champion award for their passage of three or more major pieces of record reform legislation.

  • Arizona – The state enacted eight new laws, including a broad new record clearing law, two laws improving its occupational licensing scheme, and a judicial “second chance” certificate. Arizona also repealed a law authorizing suspension of driver’s licenses for failure to pay and authorized its courts to redesignate some felonies as misdemeanors.
  • Connecticut – Enacted a major automatic record clearing scheme, restored the right to vote and hold office upon release from prison, provided for record clearing in connection with marijuana legalization, and broadened expungement for victims of human trafficking.

Another eight states and the District of Columbia earned Honorable Mention for their enactment of at least one major new law:

  • Alabama – Enacted first state record-clearing authority applicable to misdemeanor convictions and pardoned felonies, and extended non-conviction sealing.
  • California – Gave retroactive effect to automatic conviction sealing law enacted in 2019. (This new law may be the most consequential of any enacted last year in terms of its impact on criminal records in the state, and it was done without fanfare or publicity.)
  • District of Columbia – Enacted a comprehensive scheme to limit consideration of criminal record in occupational licensing.
  • Illinois – Added employment discrimination based on conviction to the state Human Rights Act, authorized voter education for prisoners.
  • New Jersey – Enacted a landmark fair housing bill; made some improvements to its 1970’s-era occupational licensing law; and, provided for automatic record clearing in connection with marijuana legalization. (New Jersey was our Reintegration Champion for 2019, but evidently is not resting on its laurels.)
  • New Mexico – Improved 1970’s-era public employment and licensing law; authorized expungement of marijuana convictions; and, enacted a substantial part of the Uniform Collateral Consequences of Conviction Act, limiting and providing relief from collateral consequences.
  • Ohio – Expanded eligibility for record-clearing; significantly improved occupational licensing law.
  • Virginia – Authorized petition-based and automated record-clearing of non-convictions and convictions, including convictions for marijuana possession; restored vote upon release by executive order and took steps to amend constitution to this end.
  • Washington – restored vote upon release from prison; amended occupational licensing standards for health professions; repealed driver’s license suspension based on outstanding financial obligations

Low marks go to three states that enacted no record reform laws at all in 2021. While there are six other states in this category this year, the legislatures of Alaska, Massachusetts, and Wisconsin earn their place at the bottom of the heap for having been equally unproductive in 2020 and 2019, years in which almost every other state passed at least some law limiting access to and use of criminal records.

The profile of each state’s restoration of rights scheme from CCRC’s Restoration of Rights Project is linked above (except for the states that made no progress). The profiles contain citations and links to the relevant new laws so that interested individuals can check their specific terms.