Submitted by Maggie O’Donnell, Director of Policy & Advocacy at the Responsible Business Initiative for Justice (RBIJ)

One in three Americans is burdened by some form of an old criminal record. Last week marked the start of Second Chance Month, during which we recognize the critical need to address the barriers that continue to face these 70 million people – sometimes, long after they are released. 

At the Responsible Business Initiative for Justice (RBIJ), we work with companies to champion solutions that promote public safety, deliver justice, and strengthen communities. Since our founding, we have worked with employers of all sizes in more than a dozen Clean Slate campaigns across the country – from Colorado to Utah to Connecticut. We know firsthand that reforming our criminal justice system can have dramatic impacts on the workforce and the economy. 

Having a criminal record creates more than 40,000 barriers to meaningful reentry, including barriers to finding and maintaining meaningful employment. Nine in ten employers currently use background checks to screen job applicants, and having a criminal record reduces a job seeker’s chance of receiving a callback by nearly 50 percent.

These detrimental impacts can persist long after an individual has served their time – or even if they have served no time at all. Tens of millions of Americans with arrest records were never even convicted of a crime but are still pushed out of the labor market. Even individuals who are already eligible to have their records cleared can face these challenges. Petition-based record clearing processes, like Missouri’s, can be burdensome, time-consuming, and costly. Less than one percent of eligible individuals will ever actually benefit from the relief that they are owed.

Clean Slate, which received a hearing in both the Senate Judiciary and House General Laws Committees last month, is a solution to get these individuals back into the labor market, provide earned second chances, and strengthen communities across the country. There’s a reason more than 150 businesses – from multinational corporations, to mom-and-pop shops, to Chambers of Commerce – have backed bills across the country. Automatic record clearing would have dramatic benefits for Missouri’s businesses and play an essential role in strengthening the state’s economy. 

Automatic record clearing will help employers find diverse, loyal, and underutilized talent to bolster the labor market. Despite record-low unemployment, employers across Missouri are struggling to fill hundreds of thousands of open jobs. The legislature must be doing everything in its power to expand the talent pool, ensuring hardworking and qualified Missourians can re-enter the labor market and find employment. 

Clean Slate will do just that. Data has shown that individuals who benefitted from automatic record clearing were 13 percent more likely to be employed one year after clearing. For those who had been able to find employment, wages increased by more than 20 percent – which means more money in the pockets of consumers and back into the economy. Strengthening employment opportunities for people with criminal records will also reduce the need for long-term government support, saving tax dollars and increasing prosperity. When compounded, those benefits would be hugely significant. According to the Missouri Budget Project, the state loses $2.6 billion in cumulative earnings each year due to the underemployment of people with criminal records that could be, but have not been, cleared. Business leaders across Missouri know that the state cannot afford to keep paying these costs. 

This legislation would do more than strengthen the bottom line. It would also make Missouri safer. Having a job is the single biggest factor in reducing recidivism, meaning that Clean Slate will actually make our communities safer. In fact, five years after Clean Slate, those who had their records cleared are less likely to commit a new crime than the general public. Keeping communities safe and strong will both support Missourians and encourage future investment, helping the state remain strong and prosperous for decades to come.

The employers I have spoken to across Missouri care deeply about keeping the state strong and prosperous – but they also care about doing the right thing. Clean Slate is rooted in the belief that anyone who has served their time deserves a real second chance. Missouri’s business leaders believe in making the state a vibrant, safe, and fair place to live and work. Clean Slate is a legislative solution that will advance those goals. 

This Second Chance Month, Missouri needs legislation that meets the demands of its workers, businesses, and communities. We are proud to join the cohort of businesses and nearly a dozen Chambers of Commerce in supporting (HB 2108/HB 2555, and SB 1161/SB 763), to give Missourians a real Clean Slate. 

If you are a business owner that would like to be involved in passing Clean Slate, please contact Maggie O’Donnell with RBIJ at [email protected].

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