Washington, D.C. — This April, in honor of Second Chance Month, the Center for American Progress’ Mayors for Smart on Crime initiative highlights a range of approaches that cities have adopted to expand opportunity for the justice-involved. An estimated 70 million Americans have some type of criminal record—and even a minor record can create lifetime barriers to housing, economic mobility, and other basic needs for a productive life. Most landlords and employers use criminal background checks to inform housing and hiring decisions, and any criminal history can disqualify an applicant from consideration. Without a pathway to a stable and productive life, a criminal record can turn into a lifelong sentence.
“Even after individuals have served their time, U.S. society continues to treat them like criminals. These policies don’t just hurt the justice-involved—they destabilize families, drive up correctional costs, reduce economic output, and jeopardize public safety,” says Ed Chung, vice president for Criminal Justice Reform at CAP. “Today, local leaders are taking a smarter approach to ensure every resident gets a second chance. By reducing barriers for people with criminal records, these mayors are building stronger, safer, and fairer cities for all.”
In Seattle, Mayor Jenny Durkan announced this year that the city will vacate convictions and dismiss charges for misdemeanor marijuana possessions, which were prosecuted before marijuana was legalized statewide. The decision—which will give residents a clean slate to move forward with their lives—is part of the mayor’s effort to reverse the detrimental and racially skewed effects of failed war on drugs policies.
In Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti established New Roads to Second Chances, a transitional employment program that provides supportive services and career preparation for the formerly incarcerated. And in Boston, Mayor Martin Walsh’s Operation Exit program is preparing justice-involved residents for successful careers in building trades, local government, culinary arts, and website development.
Other cities have found success creating offices of re-entry. In Washington D.C., for example, Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Office on Returning Citizens Affairs connects returning citizens with vital services and opportunities for economic empowerment.
Importantly, many cities are also taking steps toward reducing unnecessary involvement in the criminal justice system in the first place. Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio have enacted reforms that limit the use of criminal charges for nuisance offenses, ensuring that residents don’t get a lifetime record for infractions such as disorderly conduct. Baton Rouge is poised to enact an ordinance that would end criminal charges for marijuana possession, so that individuals pay a fine instead of serving jail time.
Read the issue brief: Second Chance Cities: Local Efforts to Promote Re-Entry Success by Betsy Pearl and Lea Hunter
For more information on this topic or to speak with an expert, please contact Sally Tucker at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202.481.8103.