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There are over 70 million people in our country who have a criminal record. That translates to about one in three Americans. The hurdles faced by those of us with records are enormous. You would think that after serving our sentences, we should be able to move on with our lives.
But the reality is that we face a myriad of often permanent barriers that prevent us from accessing essentials such as stable jobs, educational opportunities, professional licenses, safe homes, and more. In fact, the National Institute of Justice estimates there are 44,000 such barriers. These can severely limit or completely impede the ability of someone with a conviction history. They cannot function effectively in society and participate meaningfully in civic, economic and community life.
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First Takeaway: People with Old Convictions Face a Range of Barriers to Gainful Employment
Due to widespread discrimination and stigma, people with criminal records are routinely denied employment opportunities. Even after having long served their sentence. Whether it’s a former CEO or a tradesperson, once an individual is marked with the scarlet letter of condemnation, it doesn’t matter who they were before. Many employers will quickly reject applications from formerly incarcerated people. Ditto for potential investors who will refuse meetings with entrepreneurs with a history of conviction.
As expected, the resulting economic insecurity, pain, shame and despair can be devastating. Not just for us as individuals, but also for our families. People at all levels of the workforce are affected. But, systemic inequalities and racially biased policing and prosecutions in our country have resulted in disproportionate rates of arrests, incarcerations, and convictions among low-income communities of color nationwide.
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Second takeaway: there is a simple solution: provide people with a clean slate
States across the country are scrambling to pass legislation ensuring that people like me who have served their time can have our records automatically expunged. There are many states where application-based sealing is currently an option. But this process is often incredibly cumbersome and expensive. Therefore, preventing a significant number of people who would be eligible from having their records erased. Efforts to automatically wipe people’s records, also known as a clean slate, allow all eligible people to start from scratch. And, without having to jump through bureaucratic hurdles or spend money they don’t have.
When people have served their sentence and paid their debt to society, we deserve a second chance. Clean slate, erasure of the paralyzing and proverbial scarlet letter. Thanks to automatic records verification, this second chance can be fully realized – stable jobs, business licenses, business ventures and safe houses would be within our reach again. A clean slate can give us the opportunity to truly move forward in our lives.
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Takeaway Three: Clean Slate Can Help Us All
A clean slate can give me and others with criminal histories a real chance for healing, justice, and meaningful participation in the economy and communities we all share. It can also improve the well-being of entire families and communities. People who want to work hard, support their families, and contribute to their neighborhood and local community should be able to do so. We all know that children who grow up in poverty are much more likely to remain in poverty throughout their lives – a brutal cycle known as intergenerational poverty.
Clean slate policies can help break this cycle. Furthermore, the benefits of clean slate policies to our economy as a whole cannot be overstated. The ACLU estimates that nationally, excluding people with histories of labor convictions costs the economy between $78 billion and $87 billion in lost domestic product each year. With a clean slate, employers looking to grow their business could tap into a large pool of skilled workers. Without a clean slate, we risk locking up vast amounts of human potential indefinitely. Amid growing labor shortages, the great need for untapped talent is only growing. Last, but not least, a clean slate can help begin to address the racial injustice that permeates our country by breaking down unjust barriers. The ones that keep far too many black and brown Americans from reaching their full potential.
From social justice activists to Fortune 500 companies, the clean slate has a wide range of supporters who believe in its immense potential. In New York, for example, the clean slate campaign has garnered support from major unions and business leaders like JPMorgan Chase. Also, religious leaders, survivors of crime, civil rights groups, law firms and health advocates. They all understand that not only is giving people a second chance the right thing to do, it’s also the smart thing to do. As they say, a rising tide lifts all ships.
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