Was CT House right to pass bill that expunges criminals' records?
Connecticut’s “clean slate” bill is a strong step toward a more restorative justice system. When offenders serve their time, and the state considers them rehabilitated, they should truly be treated as such. Unfortunately, the criminal records they carried with them for life before the bill’s passage created barriers to employment, housing, and other full equal standings in society. Justices must be restorative for both victims and offenders; carrying the weight of a criminal record for actions frequently done in one’s youth is not just.
Expunging criminal records for lower-level offenders does not lessen punishments or make crime more likely. In fact, it will help to lower recidivism rates by helping ex-convicts move on from their criminal pasts and find honest work. Under the new legislation, an individual will have to have a clean record for seven to ten years after serving a sentence to have his or her conviction expunged. This period will vary depending on the severity of the crime. This provides an incentive for good behavior and will help to break the cycle of criminals returning to custody.
Finally, we must consider who this bill will help most. African Americans are incarcerated at a much higher rate than whites in America, frequently receiving jail time when similar offenses committed by whites may receive lesser sentences. Many of these convictions are low-level drug offenses more closely related to juvenile behavior than outright crime. This bill helps achieve racial justice by ensuring the Black community doesn’t serve lifelong punishments frequently avoided by other communities.
The Connecticut House was not right to pass a bill that expunges criminal records because the scope of crimes is too large. Some violent crimes and sex offenses are included in this group, and people already have the opportunity in the state to get their records expunged. Passing a bill of this kind for automatic expungement is a new idea to criminal justice that requires a prudent focus and careful approach to test its effectiveness. Knowing the effectiveness first is crucial before opening the gate for so many criminal offenses to be included because a criminal record does discourage a criminal and others from committing crimes. As Governor Ned Lamont further emphasized, “I would tend to walk before I run, start with a narrower set of non-violent crimes, show that the system works, and then expand from there.”
While it does seem right to pass this bill to give criminals a second chance, there is serious concern that violent crimes and sex offenses against vulnerable populations have been included for automatic expungement. Crimes such as assault on the blind, elderly, or pregnant women, and sex-related crimes with minors, for example. The opportunity is also already there in CT for someone to have their record expunged by the Board of Pardons and Paroles. This process is more thorough than automatic expungement to ensure public safety. Criminals being given a clean slate for past offenses is not more just than ensuring public safety, and this bill does not offer the right balance yet to protect the public while still giving criminals a second chance.
- The legal term 'expungement' means 'the process by which a record of criminal conviction is destroyed or sealed from state or federal record.'
- Voted in with a count of 91-56, Connecticut House Bill 6255, also called the 'clean slate' bill, aims 'to provide for a person to apply for and receive an automatic expungement of such person's criminal record in the case of misdemeanors or felony drug offenses if such person has been released from incarceration for ten years or longer without a subsequent conviction.'
- In 2015, CT Governor Malloy enacted the 'Second Chance Society' initiative, which 'has helped to reduce penalties for drug possession and make it easier for those in prison for non-violent crimes to be given parole.'
- According to the Collateral Consequences Resource Center, 17 states automatically expunge non-conviction records.