Washington, D.C. — This week, in conjunction with Second Chance Month, the bipartisan Clean Slate Act was reintroduced in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate, marking an important step toward removing barriers that prevent the 1 in 3 U.S. adults with criminal records from obtaining jobs, housing, and education. 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. It would also establish automatic sealing for low-level drug convictions. The Clean Slate Act is sponsored by Rep. Lisa Blunt-Rochester (D-DE) and Rep. Guy Reschenthaler (R-PA) in the House and Sen. Robert Casey (D-PA) and Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) in the Senate.
Following the introduction of the federal Clean Slate Act, Rebecca Vallas, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, released the following statement:
This legislation could not be more timely or urgently needed as the nation seeks to recover from the COVID-19 crisis. Workers with criminal records were already facing double-digit unemployment rates prior to the pandemic, when the overall unemployment rate was 3 to 4 percent. Passing the Clean Slate Act is a critical step to ensure that the 70 million Americans with criminal records are not excluded from the COVID-19 economic recovery.
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. Any record—no matter how old or minor—can be a lifelong barrier to jobs, housing, and economic mobility.
While most states allow at least some criminal records to be cleared, people with federal criminal records have little recourse. The Clean Slate Act would, for the first time, create a path to clearing federal records by petition and take the important step of establishing automatic record clearance, starting with low-level federal drug records—an impactful platform to build from.
I am grateful to Sen. Casey, Sen. Ernst, Rep. Blunt-Rochester, and Rep. Reschenthaler for their ongoing support for this legislation. The Clean Slate Act will 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 perpetual punishment.
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.
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 by 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.
- “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
- “Preventing and Removing Barriers to Housing Security for People With Criminal Convictions” by Jaboa Lake
For more information or to speak with an expert, contact Julia Cusick at gro.ssergorpnacirema@kcisucj.