“Positive Credentials That Limit Risk: A Report on Certificates of Relief”

We are pleased to present a new report dealing with “certificates of relief,” a form of relief from the collateral consequences of conviction that is less far-reaching than record clearing but potentially available to more people at an earlier point in time. These certificates, offered by a court or correctional agency, do not limit public access to a person’s record but are effective in reducing many record-related disadvantages in the workplace, including by providing employers and others with protection against the risk of being sued for negligence.

Positive Credentials That Limit Risk: A Report on Certificates of Relief makes the case that, at least as long as expungement and sealing remain unavailable to many people with a felony conviction record, or are available only after lengthy waiting periods, certificates of relief can provide an important addition to a state’s reentry scheme, and serve as a bridge to more thorough forms of record relief like expungement or pardon.

At the same time, in a promising development, certificates are beginning to be widely used by prison and parole agencies to encourage employment opportunities and otherwise facilitate reentry for those exiting prison or completing supervision.

Given the perceived limits of record clearing as a comprehensive reentry strategy, social science researchers have become interested in studying the effect of laws that aim to increase the positive information about individuals with a criminal record to counter the negative effect of the record itself. This report is intended to support these research efforts by describing the state of the law relating to certificates of relief in the 21 states that now offer them, and by suggesting directions of further research. A follow-up study will look at pardons.

We hope that this report will stimulate public interest in a type of relief that has been neglected in recent years as background screening has become widespread, and suggest ways to make it more widely appreciated and available. Our goal is to encourage a view of certificates and expungement as complementary parts of a single structured system of serially available criminal record relief.

As state certificate programs are referenced in the body of this report, readers may want to refer to the comparison charts and state-by-state summaries of the law included in the Appendices.  Certificates can be put into the broader context of a state’s other record relief mechanisms in the state profiles from CCRC’s Restoration of Rights Project.