Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams introduced a City Council resolution in support of the Clean Slate Act, state legislation that would automatically seal conviction records after someone has completed their sentence, is off of parole or probation, has not incurred any new charges or convictions in New York State during the waiting period, and the conviction to be sealed is not a sex offense - after a period of three years for a misdemeanor and seven for a felony conviction.
"A past criminal offense, no matter how far back in one's personal history or how much they've changed since then, serves as an permanent impediment in many spaces and denies people the opportunity to move on, to improve their lives and communities," said Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams. "While we work to reduce contact with the criminal justice system, and provide alternatives to incarceration, it is absolutely vital that once someone's sentence is served, they have full and fair opportunity to participate in society without burdens and barriers to prevent that. By sealing old records, we can provide a clean slate, reduce recidivism, and give people a second - or very often a first - chance. I urge the City to pass this resolution in support of these efforts, and the state legislature and Governor to move quickly to pass the Clean Slate Act."
The Clean Slate Act, sponsored by Assembly Member Catalina Cruz and State Senator Zellnor Myrie, is cosponsored by 42 Assembly Members and 20 State Senators. In 2017, the state enacted legislation which made 600,000 eligible to have their records sealed through an application process, but only 2,500 have completed this process as a result of unnecessary barriers. The Clean Slate Act makes this process automatic, rather than initiated by the applicant.
The presence of a criminal record frequently hinders formerly incarcerated people from obtaining employment, housing, and education. This makes the re-entry transition difficult and increases the risk for recidivism. Recent research indicates that a year following their record being cleared, people are 11 percent more likely to be employed, and earn wages more than 20 percent greater than prior to records being cleared. Additionally, greater employment access for formerly incarcerated individuals strengthens economic growth. According to new polling, a significant majority of New Yorkers support this legislation.
This resolution in support of the Legislature passing, and Governor signing, the Clean Slate Act is part of the Public Advocate's ongoing work to ease re-entry and prevent recidivism for formerly incarcerated individuals, including through the passage of the Fair Chance Act of 2015, which prevented asking job applicants about criminal history prior to a conditional offer of employment, and the 2020 expansion of that law. He is currently working to pass Intro 1881, which would help formerly incarcerated individuals successfully pursue education and employment opportunities by providing them with several official identification documents upon release.
"We are grateful that the Public Advocate has introduced this resolution calling on Albany to finish what they started and pass the Clean Slate Act," said Garrett Smith, Statewide Organizer at Center for Community Alternatives. This legislation transcends politics -- it is a moral imperative. The impact of the criminal legal system does not end once someone returns home from prison. In New York, a conviction record means a lifetime of blocked opportunities from housing, employment and education. The state must end this cycle of perpetual punishment by passing the Clean Slate Act, which would seal conviction records and provide more than 2 million New Yorkers the second chance they deserve."
"For far too long, communities of color in New York have suffered from the perpetual punishment of having a criminal record," said Zaki Smith, Policy Entrepreneur at the Next100. "Our communities have been serving a life sentence without being sentenced to one. Our debt has been paid. It is time that we be able to move on with our lives. We applaud Public Advocate Jumaane Williams for introducing this resolution and call on state lawmakers to act on Clean Slate immediately."
"The Clean Slate Act will provide automatic sealing of criminal convictions for millions of New Yorkers and is a critical step towards repairing the harm caused by decades of over-policing and underinvestment in communities of color in the Bronx," said Scott Levy, Chief Policy Counsel at The Bronx Defenders. "The resolution introduced today by the Public Advocate sends a strong message that New York City stands firmly behind speedy passage of the Clean Slate Act and ensuring that criminal conviction records don't stand in the way of people accessing safe and stable housing, employment, and education. In this moment of national reckoning, the Clean Slate Act represents an investment in the Bronx's future, in its recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, and in its resilience."
"Stale conviction records needlessly stand in the way of finding a good job, a license to practice a trade and a stable place to live for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers," said David Jones, President and CEO of the Community Service Society of New York. "Records sealing under the Clean Slate New York Act is essential to ensuring that New Yorkers move beyond the perpetual punishment a conviction record creates, and have a place in New York's pandemic recovery and in the life of our great city and state. We commend the New York City Council for supporting this vital legislation."