The new Congress has an opportunity to make significant bipartisan progress on criminal justice reform, including reducing barriers to successful reintegration for people with a criminal record.1 This agenda recommends specific measures by which Congress can accomplish this.
During the wave of criminal record reform that began around 2013, every state legislature has taken some steps to chip away at the negative effects of a record, thereby supporting opportunities to earn a living, access public benefits, education, and housing, regain voting rights, and otherwise reintegrate into society.2 Many states have entirely remade their record relief systems—authorizing or expanding expungement, sealing, set-aside, certificates of relief, and/or deferred adjudication—and limited the consideration of arrest and conviction records in employment and licensing.3
Congress has belatedly become interested in the reintegration agenda, limiting background checks in federal employment and contracting in 2019, and removing some barriers to public benefits in 2020. However, many federal barriers remain, and individuals with federal records have no access to the kind of relief mechanisms now available in most states. Recent controversies over presidential pardoning offer an incentive to wean the federal justice system from its dependence upon presidential action for the sort of routine relief these mechanisms promise.
During the pandemic, the need to access opportunities and resources is perhaps unprecedented. We therefore urge Congress and the Biden Administration to take an ambitious and bipartisan approach to criminal record reforms in the four areas described below:
- Record relief: authorize federal courts to expunge certain records, grant certificates of relief, and increase use of deferred adjudication; give effect to state relief in federal law; prohibit dissemination of certain records by background screeners and the FBI; provide relief from firearms dispossession.
- Federal public benefits: end record-related restrictions in small business relief, SNAP and TANF benefits, and student financial aid.
- Employment & licensing: establish enforceable standards for consideration of criminal record in federal employment and contracting, and limit record-based restrictions in federally-regulated occupations.
- Voting rights: allow voting in federal elections unless a person is serving a felony sentence in a correctional institution.
CCRC’s full federal agenda can be accessed here, and is reprinted below.