Washington, D.C. — Today, the Clean Slate Initiative welcomed Sheena Meade as the initiative’s first managing director and announced new commitments from several leading funders, including Arnold Ventures, the Ballmer Group, and the Justice and Mobility Fund—a collaboration between Blue Meridian Partners and the Ford Foundation with support from Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation—who join the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative as core supporters as the Clean Slate Initiative scales up its work supporting clean slate campaigns around the country. In recognition that a criminal record can be a long-lasting barrier to employment, housing, and education, clean slate policies use technology to automate record-clearing for people who stay crime-free for a set period of time. Clean slate first became law in Pennsylvania in 2018 and is based on an idea first published in a 2014 report by the Center for American Progress and Community Legal Services of Philadelphia.
Following the Clean Slate Initiative’s announcements, Sharon Dietrich, longtime legal aid attorney, litigation director at Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, and one of the co-originators of the clean slate model, issued the following statement:
Record-clearing is among the most powerful remedies for removing barriers to employment and housing for the 1 in 3 Americans with criminal records and their families. Yet most eligible people will never get their records cleared if the process requires navigating a complex court process. Since Pennsylvania’s Clean Slate Act took effect less than a year ago, nearly 1 million Pennsylvanians have had their records sealed by automation, opening the door to better employment opportunities and allowing them to finally move on with their lives. I’m thrilled to see red, blue, and purple states working to follow in Pennsylvania’s footsteps, and I’m thrilled that they will have the support of the Clean Slate Initiative, Sheena Meade, and this remarkable group of philanthropic leaders as they work to pass their own clean slate legislation.
Rebecca Vallas, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and former legal aid lawyer who co-originated the clean slate policy model with Dietrich and spearheaded CAP’s work to launch the bipartisan nationwide initiative in 2018, issued the following statement:
Given that people with records were facing Great Depression-era unemployment levels pre-COVID-19, when the overall U.S. unemployment rate was 3 percent to 4 percent, expanding and streamlining access to record-clearing will be essential to ensure the tens of millions of workers facing the stigma of a record aren’t consigned to a life of poverty on the other side of the pandemic. I’m thrilled to see so many important leaders in the philanthropic community recognize that eliminating barriers to employment for people with records is more important than ever in the COVID-19 era in order to ensure that the one-third of the workforce with a criminal record isn’t shut out of the eventual recovery. And I’m thrilled to see Sheena Meade—a talented and dedicated champion for criminal justice reform who has spent years channeling her lived experience facing the stigma of a criminal record into a tremendous, bipartisan track record for restoring the rights of people with criminal records—take the helm of the Clean Slate Initiative at this critical juncture.
Following decades of mass incarceration and overcriminalization, between 70 million and 100 million Americans now have some type of criminal record. In the digital era, with nearly 9 in 10 employers and 4 in 5 landlords now using criminal background checks, any criminal record—no matter how old or minor—can be a lifelong barrier to employment and housing. Tens of millions of families are affected, as nearly 1 in 2 U.S. children now have at least one parent with a record.
While most states allow at least some types of records to be cleared via expungement or sealing, very few eligible people ever get their records cleared when it requires the filing of a court petition—due to barriers such as costly filing fees, byzantine court systems, or lack of awareness that they are even eligible. A recent study from the University of Michigan found that nearly 95 percent of eligible people fail to get their records cleared within five years of becoming eligible.
Since it took effect in June 2019, Pennsylvania’s Clean Slate Act—which made it the first state to clear qualifying records at scale via automation—has sealed more than 34 million cases and helped nearly 1 million Pennsylvanians with records. The law was supported by a diverse coalition of stakeholders that brought together the political left and right, as well as directly affected communities, business, law enforcement, and even professional athletes. Now, the clean slate policy model is gaining bipartisan momentum in states across the country, with 70 percent of Americans supporting clean slate policies across party lines. Utah became the second state to enact a clean slate law in March 2019, and states as diverse as Michigan, Connecticut, Washington State, North Carolina, Louisiana, and New Jersey have introduced or passed measures that move toward automated record-clearing. Bipartisan legislation to automatically clear certain federal records has also been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Research confirms that record-clearing does not just significantly improve employment prospects; it also dramatically reduces recidivism, boosting public safety. Meanwhile, the coronavirus pandemic has shown that the clean slate model carries significant public health advantages compared with petition-based systems. Pennsylvania’s Clean Slate Act has enabled the state to continue clearing eligible records during the pandemic—2.8 million in March alone—while other states’ petition-based systems are largely on hold. The law also allows qualifying records to be cleared without requiring people with records, or court staff, to put their health at risk, while saving states money in the long run by streamlining a costly and burdensome court workload.
As clean slate catches on in states across the country, CAP and Community Legal Services are grateful to the Clean Slate Initiative’s funders, partners, and supporters for their commitment to breaking down barriers to stability and prosperity for millions of Americans at this critical juncture.
The Clean Slate Initiative supports local organizations working to advance clean slate automated record-clearing at the state level. The initiative also supports research on record-clearing, while fostering state and national collaboration to advance clean slate policies. The bipartisan initiative was originally launched by the Center for American Progress and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative with a diverse array of more than 25 bipartisan partners. The W. K. Kellogg Foundation and the Justice Action Network were two of the earliest supporters of the clean slate policy model. Learn more about the work of the Clean Slate Initiative and find a full list of its state and national partners at cleanslateinitiative.org.
- “PA Clean Slate: Delivering on Its Promises” by Sharon Dietrich, Community Legal Services of Philadelphia
- “Criminal records can be a ‘life sentence to poverty.’ This state is automatically sealing some.” by Hannah Knowles, The Washington Post
- “Why states are rushing to seal millions of old criminal records” by The Economist
- “Video: A Mistake Shouldn’t Sit on Your Shoulders: Pennsylvania Becomes First State to Clear Criminal Records Through Automation” by Jasmine Hardy, David Ballard, and Rebecca Vallas
- “The Case for Expunging Criminal Records” by J.J. Prescott and Sonja Starr, The New York Times
- “One Strike and You’re Out: How We Can Remove Barriers to Economic Security and Mobility for People with Criminal Records” by Rebecca Vallas and Sharon Dietrich
- “Removing Barriers to Opportunity for Parents with Criminal Records and Their Families: A Two-Generation Approach” by Rebecca Vallas, Melissa Boteach, Rachel West, and Jackie Odum
For more information, contact Julia Cusick at gro.ssergorpnacirema@kcisucj or Caitlin Brown at gro.alihpslc@nworbc.