Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven Kyle Constable / CTMirror.org
Sen. Gary Winfield has championed criminal justice reforms since taking office in 2009. In this file photo, he sits in solitary confinement — in the lobby of the Capitol — while protesting the use of this punishment in prisons. mark pazniokas / ctmirror.org
Sen. Gary Winfield has championed criminal justice reforms since taking office in 2009. In this file photo, he sits in solitary confinement — in the lobby of the Capitol — while protesting the use of this punishment in prisons. mark pazniokas / ctmirror.org

This article was updated at 12:15 with information from Wednesday morning’s press conference.

Sen. Gary Winfield proposed “Clean Slate” legislation today that significantly expands the bill championed by Gov. Ned Lamont earlier this month by automatically clearing most misdemeanors and low level felonies for those who have served their time and remain conviction-free for roughly seven years.

“I think we should be figuring out how we do Clean Slate for everybody,” said Winfield, a New Haven Democrat and co-chair of the Judiciary Committee.

While some of the final details still are undecided, Winfield’s proposal would provide relief to nearly four times as many people as the one offered by the Lamont administration.

“I don’t want to wholesale throw out the governor’s bill. I don’t think that’s a smart way to go. But I do want the bill to really do something.”

Sen. Gary Winfield

Winfield’s measure retains the spirit of Lamont’s proposal, however. It would still automatically clear certain criminal records, require the Board of Pardons and Parole to receive training on the collateral consequences of a criminal record and includes an anti-discrimination clause to protect those whose criminal records have been expunged. And, like Lamont’s, Winfield’s bill tentatively requires people to remain conviction-free for seven years to be eligible for automatic erasure, but would also include language to ensure individuals don’t have to wait an unduly long time to get their records expunged after they completed their time under state supervision.

“I don’t want to wholesale throw out the governor’s bill. I don’t think that’s a smart way to go,” Winfield said. “But I do want the bill to really do something.”

Winfield’s bill would also expunge a wider array of crimes than Lamont’s, which would apply only to low-level misdemeanors, much to the chagrin of advocates. Winfield’s would include all misdemeanors, except those related to family violence, and Class C, D and E felonies, which are crimes like second-degree larceny and assault, and carrying a dangerous weapon. Felonies would be subject to “provisional erasure,” which means law enforcement could see the convictions for several years before they were completely erased.

“I think [this] makes it a much stronger bill,” Winfield said of the additions, “and something that I think advocates and people who’ve been through this will feel is worth fighting for.”

Winfield formally announced his plans during a Wednesday morning press conference, where reformers gathered in a crowded room to voice their support for a bill that would expunge all records.

“If a Clean Slate discriminates then it is guilty of doing the very thing we are trying to remedy,” Tracie Bernadi, an ACLU Smart Justice leader who served 23 years in prison. “There should be no carve outs.”

Winfield reiterated at the news conference that he supports Clean Slate for all, but said he is trying to foster a meaningful discussion that takes into account the realities of a short legislative session.

“I am trying to engage in a conversation that is thoughtful and is realistic,” he said.

Those convicted of felonies and misdemeanors can currently petition the Board of Pardons and Parole for expungement after three or five years have passed since their disposition, depending on the conviction. But the application requires people to have extensive memories of their crimes, and can be so complicated that individuals must hire a lawyer to help them complete the paperwork.

“The pardon process is onerous, long and unnecessarily complicated and costly,” Bernadi said. “With all the hoops and hurdles the pardon process has, it’s like asking people with a criminal record to be re-tried.”

Advocates say a broader policy would help eliminate discrimination those with criminal records face when they apply for jobs or housing.

“The person has paid their debt to society,” said Anthony Bennett, pastor of Bridgeport’s Mt. Aery Baptist Church and co-chair of CONECT, an organization that played a key role in fighting for a Clean Slate bill that died last session. “It would benefit Connecticut and the citizens of Connecticut to have full participation of citizens who have paid their debt to society.”

Automatic record expungement of more serious crimes would especially help people of color who have criminal records.

Whites are under-represented in the criminal justice system. They make up about two-thirds of Connecticut’s population, but accounted for just 40% of the top felony convictions in 2019, and 46% of the most common misdemeanors. Hispanic and blacks, meanwhile, are a combined 29% of Connecticut’s population, but made up almost 53% of the top misdemeanor convictions and 58% of felonies in 2019.

Bennett said CONECT is glad Lamont has started a conversation on Clean Slate this legislative session, but there’s more work to be done to ensure it benefits as many people as possible.

“We want to broaden it because it includes a greater population of returning citizens,” he said.

“I am thankful that the governor engaged in this conversation because quite frankly he did not have to,” Winfield said at the news conference. “But the voices that you are hearing here are directing this conversation.”

Marc Pelka, the governor’s under secretary for criminal justice policy and planning, said Monday that Lamont’s bill was intended as a first step that lawmakers could build on in future years once the technology was in place to automatically expunge eligible records.

The administration has shopped the governor’s proposal to the Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the Alliance to End Sexual Violence and new Chief State’s Attorney Richard Colangelo, all of whom supported the bill, Pelka said.

Lamont has not seen Winfield’s proposal, Pelka said, but will work with him once he reads a draft. The administration will try to find common ground and then re-approach those who will be key to Clean Slate’s passage this session.

Gov. Ned Lamont is handed 805 letters showing support for a Clean Slate bill broader than the one he proposed to lawmakers. Photo courtesy of CONECT

“The governor’s aspirations always were [for this] to be a bipartisan bill,” Pelka said. “We’re trying to meet with both House and Senate Republican leaders, as well as legislators on the Judiciary Committee on the Republican side.”

As Pelka was doing research for Clean Slate, he came across information that underscored the permanence of a criminal record: State police keep criminal convictions, even misdemeanors, on file for 110 years after a person’s date of birth.

“That spoke to me about the human element of all this,” Pelka said. “People are dynamic, they change, they atone, they rehabilitate, they grow.”

To Winfield, a broader Clean Slate policy would ensure people’s criminal records don’t hold back their lives after they’ve done their time. He isn’t claiming people shouldn’t be held accountable — prison is the punishment for committing a crime, Winfield said, but automatic expungement of eligible records ensures a prison term doesn’t become a life sentence.

“Many of us have told our children, ‘You have to pay your time for your crime,’ right? But the way it works is you pay your time, you come out and you pay because you can’t get housing, you pay because you can’t get a job,” Winfield said. “I think we have to live up to that thing that we told our kids, ‘Yeah, you should pay for your crime, but you shouldn’t be paying 30 years later.’”

Kelan is a Report For America Corps Member who covers the intersection of mental health and criminal justice for CT Mirror. Before joining CT Mirror, Kelan was a staff writer for City Weekly, an alt weekly in Salt Lake City, Utah, and a courts reporter for The Bryan-College Station Eagle, in Texas. He is originally from Philadelphia.

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14 Comments

    1. You don’t seem to mind ex-cons turning to crime to survive but you mind solutions that would prevent this?
      Where’s the logic here?

    1. Truth is, once that person has done their time, they no longer owe the state nor the victim anything.
      The way we keep them from creating future victims is by keeping them busy and productive.

  1. So Winfield’s bill would exclude family violence misdemeanors (good idea) but include erasure of Class C felonies “like second-degree larceny and assault, and carrying a dangerous weapon”? Other Class C felonies are crimes like manslaughter 2nd degree (including with firearm), various sexual assaults (including of a minor), burglary 2nd degree, arson 3rd degree, robbery 2nd degree, assault on police or first responders, possessing child pornography, stealing a firearm, violating protective or restraining orders, and abusing an elderly or disabled person. Class D felonies also include various assault, sexual assault, burglary and robbery charges. Here’s a list of all crimes by classification, a report prepared in March 2018 for the legislature. https://www.cga.ct.gov/2018/rpt/pdf/2018-R-0073.pdf. And these are convictions that Winfield wants to erase automatically? Really???

    1. Really don’t see how it’s any of your business really especially when it’s not your community who needs help and when erasing criminal records would open doors to good employment and housing which will reduce crime and poverty.
      You don’t speak up when these communities lack adequate funding for their elementary schools or are being taken advantage of in some way but you’ll speak up to limit opportunity for them?
      SMH.
      As you see, you can’t stop progress.

      1. You don’t see how it’s any of my business? I’m a resident and taxpayer of the state of Connecticut. THAT makes it my business. And if you would re-read my comment, you’ll see that I’m not opposed to the governor’s proposal — it’s a start — but I AM opposed to Winfield’s proposed expansion to include some very, very serious felonies.

        Which communities “lack adequate funding for the elementary schools”? Cities like New Haven, Bridgeport and Hartford which get at least half their funding — much more than other communities — from the State? How about people not committing crimes in the first place, so they don’t need to worry about having a criminal record? How about parents encouraging their kids to do well in school, so they can graduate and get a job?

      2. Where were you when some inner city schools were lacking funding in the past?
        Now you stick your head out when real change is about to happen?
        Being a tax-payer doesn’t make it your business, especially when you’re just trying to keep things the same.
        Also, everyone pays taxes because tax is including in every product you buy.
        You don’t present solutions, only criticism.

      3. Who made you the arbiter of who is entitled to have and express an opinion — unless, of course, that opinion is approved by you? How did you make the decision that only those who agree with you are affected by the legislation passed by the legislature?

  2. that’s exactly what the people of this state want from this bill…more people convicted of crimes back onto our streets.

    1. News flash, they’re already “back onto our streets” but with criminal records that often times leaves them jobless, desperate and many times even homeless which can push anyone into crime just to survive or to prison just to have shelter, a meal and medical care.
      You don’t speak for us in Connecticut.
      Not all whites are racist here and we see the injustice and cold heart towards minorities which leaves many of us numb.
      Many of us actually live our Faith’s, not just play pretend on Sundays.
      You better believe change is coming.

      1. Who said I was racist? I did not bring race into the conversation…you did. You then assumed I am religious and made fun of those who go to church only on Sunday’s. That’s racism against Catholics.

  3. This is what the minority community has been demanding for quite some time now.
    You can’t keep ignoring their biggest problem while using them for votes.
    Regarding domestic cases, the state has to separate wife beaters from underage children who got into an altercation with or threatened their parent(s).
    You can’t give children a life sentence of limited options and grief especially when their brains hasn’t fully developed yet. They’re not even fully developed humans yet and you’re condemning them to a half-life for a personal matter that never involved the general public.
    The state has to be more lenient to crimes that were not against the public.
    Also, money problems are the #1 cause of domestic violence so you give the domestic offender a criminal record and make things even more tight for them financially?
    How does that make things safer at home?
    If it’s for the gun, look up the men in New Britain who murdered their wives without a gun.
    Everyone has their pardon idea so I’ll give mines.
    Leave sexual misdemeanors and felonies to the Board of Pardons and expunge class A, B, C, D misdemeanors ‘automatically’ after five years.
    This would allow the more serious crimes to be given a look at by the Board of Pardons instead of being passed up for a misdemeanor while being fair and not letting them wait seven years to see if they won’t give up and run back to crime (which can create more victims).
    The state needs to be linient and generous if change and maintaining minority voters are the goals.

    1. Hi Stacey, we welcome your comments but please note that our guidelines require that comments be limited to 1,000 characters. We will not be able to approve comments that exceed that limit going forward.

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