Washington, D.C. — Today, Sens. Robert Casey (D-PA) and Joni Ernst (R-IA) introduced legislation in the U.S. Senate that would enable people with low-level federal criminal records to get them sealed, including by establishing automatic sealing for low-level drug charges. The bill would create the first broadly available relief for people facing employment and housing barriers due to federal criminal records, which generally require a pardon to clear from one’s criminal history. This legislation is a companion bill to the House version, which was introduced by Reps. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE) and Guy Reschenthaler (R-PA) in April 2019 and reintroduced in January 2020.
Following the introduction of the federal Clean Slate Act, Rebecca Vallas, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, released the following statement:
In the digital era, even a minor record can be a life sentence to poverty. Nearly 9 in 10 employers, 4 in 5 landlords, and 3 in 5 colleges now use background checks to screen applicants’ criminal records, turning an arrest or conviction into a lifelong barrier to jobs, housing, and economic mobility.
While most states allow at least some criminal records to be cleared, to allow people to move on with their lives and provide for their families, people currently facing the stigma of a federal criminal record have little recourse. The Clean Slate Act would, for the first time, create a path to clearing federal records by petition—while taking the important step of establishing automatic record-clearance, starting with low-level federal drug records, and offering an impactful platform to build on.
This legislation could not be more timely or urgently needed, as our nation seeks to recover from the COVID-19 crisis. People with criminal records were already facing double-digit unemployment rates prepandemic, when the overall unemployment rate was down at 3 percent to 4 percent.
I am thrilled to see Congress continuing to learn from the states when it comes to criminal justice reform, following the bipartisan momentum growing in the states for criminal record-clearing and other important second chance reforms to help people get back to work, lift families out of poverty, and interrupt the cycle of economic instability and recidivism trapping countless individuals and families in the justice system. And I am thrilled to see Sens. Casey and Ernst join Reps. Blunt Rochester and Reschenthaler in the House in leading the call to finally bring record-clearing to the federal level.
The introduction of the bipartisan federal Clean Slate Act in the Senate comes on the heels of significant bipartisan momentum for expanding access to record-clearing in the states, including through the enactment of clean slate automated record-clearing policies, which have been increasingly embraced as a tool for bringing far-reaching relief to individuals and families facing the long-lasting barriers to economic opportunity that can come with having a criminal record.
Pennsylvania became the first state in the country to automate criminal record-clearing with its 2018 Clean Slate Act. In the first year since the law took effect in June 2019, Pennsylvania’s Clean Slate Act sealed more than 35 million cases, helping more than 1 million Pennsylvanians get records cleared so they can better access employment and housing opportunities. Utah became the second state to enact a clean slate automated record-clearing law in March 2019, and in October 2020, Michigan enacted the most extensive version of clean slate to date, including qualifying felonies. As bipartisan momentum for expanding access to record-clearing has swept across the country, states as diverse as North Carolina, Georgia, Connecticut, Louisiana, Washington, California, and New Jersey have introduced or passed measures that expand access to record-clearing, with popularity building in many more for 2021 state legislative sessions. Meanwhile, lawmakers in Pennsylvania have announced their intention to introduce bipartisan legislation building on the Clean Slate Act in 2021 to extend the law to drug felonies.
- “Advancing Clean Slate: The Need for Automatic Record Clearance During the Coronavirus Pandemic” by Akua Amaning
- “PA Clean Slate: Delivering on Its Promises” by Sharon M. 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” The Economist
- Video: “‘If You Are Telling Someone They Can Come Home One Day, They Deserve a Second Chance‘” by Jasmine Hardy, David Ballard, and Rebecca Vallas
- “The Case for Expunging Criminal Records” by J.J. Prescott and Sonja B. Starr, The New York Times
- “One Strike and You’re Out: How We Can Eliminate 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 Children: A Two-Generation Approach” by Rebecca Vallas, Melissa Boteach, Rachel West, and Jackie Odum
For more information or to speak to an expert, contact Julia Cusick at gro.ssergorpnacirema@kcisucj.