STATEMENT: CAP’s Rebecca Vallas Applauds the Passage of Second Chance Legislation in New Jersey

Washington, D.C. — Earlier this week, as part of a package of criminal justice reform bills, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) signed into law legislation that expands eligibility for expungement and establishes a task force to design a clean slate automated record-clearing system for the state next year. Following the legislation’s signing, Rebecca Vallas, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and one of the originators of the clean slate automated record-clearing model, issued the following statement:

We applaud New Jersey for both expanding eligibility for record-clearing and paving a path toward automating the state’s criminal record-clearing process. In the digital age, in which 9 in 10 employers, 4 in 5 landlords, and 3 in 5 colleges now use background checks to screen applicants, having a criminal record can be a life sentence to poverty. Allowing people to move on with their lives and put the stigma of a criminal record behind them once they’ve served their time is therefore an essential part of criminal justice reform. Yet research indicates that just 6.5 percent of people eligible for expungement successfully get their records cleared—in many cases, simply because they can’t afford a lawyer or they must pay costly filing fees associated with a petition-based expungement process. Gov. Murphy and the New Jersey Legislature are to be applauded for taking this important step toward automating criminal record-clearing in the state next year in order to ensure that expungement is available to everyone who’s eligible—not just the few who can afford legal help. We encourage the Legislature to swiftly pass clean slate legislation and send it to the governor’s desk next year as soon as the task force makes its recommendations.

The establishment of New Jersey’s task force comes as automating record-clearing has become a major bipartisan legislative trend. Earlier this year, Utah became the second state in the nation to pass bipartisan clean slate legislation, following Pennsylvania’s 2018 first-in-the-nation law. Michigan and Connecticut also introduced their own clean slate bills in 2019, with Michigan’s bill passing the House almost unanimously last month.  And bipartisan federal clean slate legislation was introduced in Congress in August 2018. Clean slate is based on an idea first published in a 2014 report by the Center for American Progress and Community Legal Services of Philadelphia.

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