Last week, on behalf of Empower Missouri, I attended the 2021 SEARCH Symposium. It is a national forum that addresses critical and timely issues, programs, research and policies confronting decision-makers and justice information management professionals. Due to the ongoing global pandemic, this year’s session was a hybrid model, which held courses in person and on digital. The symposium hosted several different workshops across four tracks, one of which included criminal justice reform. COVID has made the entire world re-evaluate how we operate and the area of criminal justice reform was no exception.
The Criminal Justice Reform track primarily focused on the Clean Slate Initiative of criminal record expungement. The panelists were able to highlight several states that have already, or are in the process of implementing one form of record-clearance throughout their state. Criminal Justice experts from Pennsylvania, Utah, and Michigan presented their processes and were able to address some of the issues, questions, and concerns they faced while implementing the initiative.
Pennsylvania became the first state in the nation to enact a Clean Slate initiative in 2019. The law established criteria for individuals convicted of misdemeanors punishable by two years or less in prison, and charges not resulting in convictions as being eligible for automatic expungement. To date, Pennsylvania has cleared more than 36 million cases. These figures show that Clean Slate records clearance has had an undeniable impact on communities and these outcomes have helped to set an example for other states to follow suit.
Following Pennsylvania’s lead, in 2019, Utah became the second state in the nation to automate the criminal record expungement process for individuals with qualifying misdemeanor records. However, due to COVID and other program complexities, the law’s implementation has been delayed. Utah was able to highlight some major concerns in regards to external partners and coordination of record clearance. Criminal Justice experts were able to express the importance of coordination with coalitions in the implementation of their process.
Last fall, Michigan signed into law Clean Slate Legislation, providing opportunities for some people to apply to have their criminal record expunged. In total, the state has passed seven legislative bills that address record clearance. Michigan was very unique because lawmakers were able to highlight some of the concerns that critics of Clean Slate had expressed and were able to address those concerns making their approach truly bipartisan.
The lessons taken from the SEARCH Symposium will definitely be utilized as we work throughout Missouri to generate a bipartisan effort to address record clearance in our state. For years, Empower Missouri has led vigorous campaigns to seek the passage of the Clean Slate legislation. We believe the passage of such legislation would undoubtedly have a positive impact on Missourians and other communities. Clean Slate legislation would make it easier for many to move past old mistakes, and would free up opportunities for them.
The SEARCH conference has shown me that Clean Slate legislation can have positive effects on the citizens. We already see the evidence from states that have enacted some form of record clearance. Allowing those citizens a true second chance after they have served their sentence, is something the entire community as a whole can benefit from.
Criminal Justice Policy Manager