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 Arizona also repealed a law authorizing suspension of driver’s licenses for failure to pay and authorized its courts to redesignate some felonies as misdemeanors.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: Read more
Since 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.
“I don’t know why everyone is talking about the New Jim Crow; in the South the old one never went away.” – 2013 New Southern Strategy Coalition conference participant
The New Southern Strategy Coalition is a collaborative network of Southern advocacy groups and their national allies, originally convened in 2011 and dedicated to reducing the negative consequences of a criminal record in the South. Because the South has always been seen as a region resistant to criminal justice reform, many national groups do not have a presence there, and state-based advocacy efforts are generally underfunded and understaffed. The voices of those most affected are missing from southern state capitols, and the region is often left out of the national dialogue altogether.
NSSC addresses these challenges by providing opportunities for southern organizations to network and share information about regional best practices to minimize legal barriers to reentry. The premise is that state-specific reform efforts in the South will be supported and magnified by the Coalition’s collective goals operating across a unified landscape. NSSC holds regional conferences to discuss effective reform strategies, provides training and materials, ensures that the voices of directly affected individuals are included in a meaningful way, and uses web-based and social media tools to leverage reform efforts.
Oklahoma is the most recent state to expand its expungement laws to make more people eligible for record-clearing at an earlier date. While the specific changes adopted by the Oklahoma legislature are relatively modest, involving reduced waiting periods and fewer disqualifying priors, they are significant as part of a national trend toward enlarging this type of “forgetting” relief for people with minor criminal records. Details of Oklahoma’s law are available here.
Other states that have enacted new expungement laws or broadened existing ones in the past two years include Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Indiana, Minnesota, and Tennessee.
Alabama’s new expungement law is the first record-closing law in that state and applies only to non-conviction records. Arkansas and Minnesota broadened or consolidated existing expungement schemes that were already quite extensive. The Indiana expungement scheme is entirely new and particularly comprehensive and progressive. (An analysis of the new law by its primary sponsor in the Indiana legislature will be posted in this space very soon.) The effect of this type of “forgetting” relief varies widely from state to state, from complete destruction of records in states like Pennsylvania and Connecticut to more limited relief in Kansas and Indiana, where expunged records remain accessible to some employers as well as law enforcement.
The other type of individualized judicial relief from collateral consequences that is growing in popularity relies not on limiting public access to a person’s criminal record, but instead on Read more