On Monday, April 5, the Connecticut General Assembly’s Judiciary Committee passed Senate Bill 1019, also known as “Clean Slate,” which automates the erasure of criminal records for eligible individuals who remain crime-free for lengthy periods of time. The bill is now on its way to Senate for debate. We urge lawmakers to pass Clean Slate for the following three reasons.
First, Clean Slate will reduce the likelihood of recidivism and thus promote public safety in Connecticut. Recent groundbreaking research by law professors J.J. Prescott of the University of Michigan Law School and Sonja Starr of the University of Chicago Law School reveals that Clean Slate reduces the likelihood of recidivism for individuals with records. Without Clean Slate, these individuals find it difficult to plan for and build a responsible future, given the uncertainty of when or whether they will be freed from the stigma of their criminal records, some of which are decades old.
It has been shown that when granted expungement, people with convictions are able to obtain better employment and education opportunities and are thus less likely to reoffend. As Prescott and Starr explain, recidivism rates for people who have had their records expunged are so low that they actually “pose a lower crime risk than the general population as a whole.” Hence, by giving people a future without the stigma of their records, Clean Slate is poised to promote public safety by reducing the likelihood of recidivism.
Second, Clean Slate will mitigate the racial injustice disproportionately inflicted upon Black and brown communities by mass incarceration. The overwhelming reality of racism in our criminal justice system renders Black and brown persons nationwide and in Connecticut more likely to be arrested, charged, convicted, and sentenced for crimes. Black and brown people are also held longer on average in prisons than their white counterparts for similar crimes. They therefore constitute a disproportionately large percentage of potential candidates for expungement.
However, Connecticut’s current pardons system for records expungement, which requires individualized applications, fails to guarantee that a person will ultimately have their records expunged. A 2021 study analyzing the Connecticut pardon process revealed that under present pardon rates in Connecticut, it would take 577 years for all eligible Connecticut residents to receive pardons. This systematic failure, coupled with the enduring stigma of criminal records and the criminal justice system’s chokehold on Black and Brown communities, exacerbates existing racial and class inequities in Connecticut. Through automatic erasure, Clean Slate will help to mitigate these disparities and the racialized harms of mass incarceration.
Finally, Clean Slate will improve Connecticut’s economy. Perpetual access to an individual’s criminal records makes recidivism more likely than recovery and poverty more likely than progress by subjecting those who have already faced criminal penalties to an additional life-long sentence of discrimination in housing, employment, and education. Clean Slate would help to mitigate these deplorable circumstances by allowing people with convictions to participate fully in our social and economic communities.
Clean Slate will also benefit all of Connecticut by boosting economic growth through increased market participation. In Michigan, Starr & Prescott’s research showed increased annual earnings of nearly $4,500 in the year following record expungement. With an estimated 277,000 people eligible to benefit here in Connecticut from Clean Slate, similar gains would mean more than $1.2 billion in additional earnings. That’s an economic impact we cannot afford to pass up.
Connecticut is poised to build on the successes of other states across the country that have taken stock of the devastating impact of institutionalized racism and mass incarceration and have passed Clean Slate laws, including some with significant bipartisan support. These states include California, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Utah, and, as of February 2021, Virginia. A similar measure was recently introduced in New York, and campaigns have been launched in such politically diverse states as Delaware, Louisiana, North Carolina, Oregon, and Texas.
Just last week, on March 31, President Joe Biden declared April 2021 the “Second Chance Month,” stating that “America’s criminal justice system must offer meaningful opportunities for redemption and rehabilitation” and that “after incarcerated individuals serve their time, they should have the opportunity to fully reintegrate into society.”
Clean Slate affirms these key principles raised by President Biden by allowing individuals with records to participate fully in our social and economic communities, which would, incidentally, drive hundreds of millions of dollars of additional economic activity in Connecticut. The measure presents a momentous opportunity for Connecticut to challenge institutionalized racism, income inequality, and economic stagnation and unshackle hundreds of thousands of its residents from the permanent impact of their criminal records. With Clean Slate, lawmakers would also bolster Connecticut’s reputation as a “Second Chance” state. The time has come for Connecticut to pass Clean Slate!
Dr. Asti Jackson and Philip Kent are Strategy Team Members at Congregations Organized for a New Connecticut (CONECT) and co-chair CONECT’s Criminal Justice Reform Team. Isabelle Barnard, Walter Paul, Isir Said, and Medha Swaminathan are law students at Yale Law School and law student interns at the Jerome N Frank Legal Services Organization.