Have a Criminal History? Get a Fresh Start

People with conviction histories face tens of thousands of barriers to finding a job, a stable place to live or a license to practice a trade. These restrictions, some codified and some a matter of prejudice-based custom, often make it nearly impossible for them to find a foothold months, years or even decades after they complete their sentence.

This has significant consequences not just for the 2.3 million New Yorkers with conviction histories, but for our entire state. By excluding so many people from participating in the economy, we sabotage ourselves by destabilizing communities and shortchanging growth. We are all impacted, whether or not we’ve had direct contact with the criminal legal system.

DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido

I serve as the executive director of DC 37, New York City’s largest public employee union, representing 150,000 members and 50,000 retirees. We fully support the Clean Slate Act, which can undo conviction records’ damage and create a stronger future for all of us.

By automatically sealing eligible conviction records, the bill would end this scourge of job discrimination, allow for more labor-market participation, and increase economic growth. Lawmakers must pass it, without weakening amendments, in this year’s state budget. Shamefully, as the world’s leading incarcerator, our country has locked up millions of individuals, a disproportionate number of whom are Black and Brown. Even after they have served their sentences, their conviction records haunt them — in many cases for life — barring them from jobs, homes, schools and more.

By judging others based solely on their prior interaction with the criminal legal system, we not only legitimize the inequitable and racist outcomes of a flawed system, we perpetuate cycles of poverty and trap individuals and families in perpetual punishment, long after sentences have been served.

New Yorkers with conviction records face massive hurdles to obtaining steady employment, often seeing their applications discarded without a second look.

This is precisely why formerly incarcerated individuals have a high likelihood of unemployment. Many struggle with the dual threats of poverty and homelessness, which is why ensuring people can get back on their feet is so essential. Robbing them of any chance of a stable income destroys chances of participating in the legitimate economy.

Beyond the individual human toll that results from this cycle, there are significant economic consequences for our state. Formerly incarcerated individuals collectively lose nearly $2 billion in wages annually, which hurts our shared economy and shrinks tax revenue.

That is lost money that could be spent improving our communities, with new funding for education, housing and health-care programs. Instead, because we have amplified poverty and instability through conviction records-based employment discrimination, we waste more money on the carceral state, which is one of the biggest drags on state and local budgets.

Clean Slate would automatically seal convictions for most civil purposes after a three-year waiting period for misdemeanors and a seven-year period for felonies (not including time incarcerated) after completion of community supervision and only if the person has no subsequent convictions. Under the bill, sex offenses are not eligible for sealing.

Automatically sealing stale conviction records will allow people to move forward and support their families. Research shows that a year after getting a record cleared, individuals are 11% more likely to have a job and are earning wages that are more than 20% higher than beforehand.

People deserve to live with dignity. We should want everyone to be able to support themselves and their families. I am tired of seeing my fellow New Yorkers treated as second-class citizens, and it is time we give everyone the opportunity to fully participate in our society. I urge Gov. Hochul, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie to stand up for each and every constituent they represent and pass the Clean Slate Act without delay.

Henry Garrido is the Executive Director of District Council 37. This editorial originally appeared in the New York Daily News on March 15, 2022.

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