Gov. Ned Lamont, dressed in formal attire, stands in front a podium with microphones — with several city and state officials standing behind him. He's speaking in a room full of reporters and advocates.
Gov. Ned Lamont speaks Monday at a press conference recognizing the partial implementation of Connecticut's clean slate law, Jaden Edison / CT Mirror

In December, the State of Connecticut announced its intention to break the law beginning on January 1, 2023. The people of Connecticut need to know that this law-breaking by our government cannot last for long.

In May of 2021, the Connecticut General Assembly passed the Clean Slate bill. When Gov. Ned Lamont signed the bill into law on June 10 2021,  it became Public Act 21-32. Clean Slate will automatically erase the records of people with misdemeanor and lower-level felony convictions who have completed their sentences and had no further involvement with the criminal legal system after seven to ten years.

People living with criminal records face daunting and numerous barriers to resuming their lives, particularly when it comes to finding gainful employment and stable places to live long after they’ve completed their sentences. Clean Slate was a promise to the over 273,000 people who had paid their debt to society and earned the right to move on with their lives, that the state of Connecticut would honor their work and allow them to live record-free.

At the end of October, as he was campaigning for a second term, Gov. Ned Lamont promised Congregations Organized for a New Connecticut (CONECT) that he would commit $3 million in funding for Clean Slate. “We are going to do whatever it takes to make sure Clean Slate works. Yes, we’re going to do it right,” Lamont proclaimed.

Clean Slate was to go into effect on January 1, 2023, but on, December 6, less than 30 days before hundreds of thousands of people in Connecticut could look forward to moving on with their lives, Lamont’s office announced that Clean Slate was being delayed and would not be implemented on time.

This delay will have a real and deleterious impact on people’s lives. A person who thought their record would be erased on January 1 will continue to face discrimination, lose employment opportunities and be rejected for housing. People of color, who are over-represented in the state’s courts and prison and jails relative to their composition within the state residential population, will continue to face collateral harm from the criminal legal system.

Gus Marks-Hamilton

An estimated 15% of people in Connecticut are living with a criminal record, and close to 50% of adult Black men have a conviction. That conviction rate for adult Black men could be lowered to an estimated 30% when Clean Slate is fully implemented, and approximately halve the overall population of people in the state living with a conviction.

There’s a fundamental trust factor, too. When the state cannot follow its only laws, when it cannot actually do what it promised people it would do, people will not believe that the state genuinely wants them to succeed. People will not believe that the state is invested in their future.

People will see that the state remains committed to a failed system of endless punishment and that has turned hundreds of thousands of people into permanent second class citizens. Failing to implement the Clean Slate law on time also belies the relentless, years-long efforts by directly impacted people and advocates who activated themselves into the legislative process and fought for the Clean Slate bill every step of way until it was passed into law.

Will Roberts began advocating for a Clean Slate bill in the 2020 legislative session, before the COVID-19 pandemic began. During the 2021 legislative session, which was virtual because the Capitol was closed to members of the public, he along with leaders from the ACLU of Connecticut Smart Justice campaign (where I also work), members of CONECT and other advocates testified and lobbied members of the General Assembly from the parking lot for six months.

In the 2022 legislative session Will testified against a reprehensible bill that would have repealed parts of Clean Slate before it went into effect and given landlords permission to access people’s erased records. Fortunately, that bill did not pass. On December 7, Will attended a press conference in New Haven at the Community Baptist Church where directly impacted people, advocates and legislators voiced their disappointment with the law’s setbacks.

“I’m not surprised, to be honest,” Will said. “It’s very frustrating, and once again it’s up to us to build the pressure, raise our voices and bring attention to this because it feels like the state is just kicking the can down the road. People have been waiting for almost a year and a half. How much longer will they have to wait? Six months? What’s to guarantee the state will be ready by then?”

Governor Lamont stated that he expects Clean Slate to be fully implemented by the second half of 2023, sometime after the General Assembly can address “significant interpretation issues,” which sounds like finding ways to carve out more people who have paid their debt to society from being eligible for Clean Slate. When the governor originally signed the bill in 2021, he included a letter expressing his concern “that more felonies were not excluded.” Yet the General Assembly completed its legislative session in 2022 and there have been a handful of special sessions since Clean Slate was signed into law 18 months ago. The issues causing the current delay were not brought up or revealed until a month before the law’s implementation (and after the election in November).

“I feel like it shows that they’re not taking us seriously,” said Roberts. “Connecticut keeps touting themselves as leading the country with Clean Slate, but how can we lead when the state makes promises it doesn’t stick to? They don’t see how this impacts us. They pass a law but they’re not going to abide by the law. If I don’t abide by the law, I could be arrested. It’s a double standard. Where is the accountability for the state?”

People can find more information about the Clean Slate law, eligibility, and notices when the law is finally implemented, at cleanslatect.org.

Gus Marks-Hamilton is a member of the Connecticut Mirror’s Community Editorial Board.