A new study by researchers at the University of Michigan Law School shows the benefits of giving people a clean slate. The good news: Within a year, people who have their criminal records expunged see their wages increase by more than 20 percent, on average. The bad news is that hardly anyone gets expungements because most people aren’t able to navigate the complex legal process. The policy upshot of this research is clear: Lawmakers need to make it much easier for people to actually clear their records and get a fresh start. States should follow the approach of the Pennsylvania Legislature and the recently introduced Utah and California bills and make expungement automatic once the legal requirements are met.
Utah lawmakers pass the ‘clean slate’ bill to automatically clear the criminal records of people who earn an expungement
Clean slate legislation has passed both chambers of the Utah Legislature, setting Utah up to become the second state in the country to automatically clear certain criminal records. Sponsored by state Rep. Eric Hutchings (R), clean slate legislation is a second chance for Utahans who have been shut out of the labor market and housing and education opportunities. The legislation is currently awaiting the signature of Gov. Gary Herbert (R).
In March 2019, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón and Assemblyman Phil Ting announced a clean slate legislation proposal, A.B. 1076, in California. An estimated 8 million people in California have a criminal record, which can make it almost impossible to find work and housing or to get an education. Although California already has a process in place that allows people to clear their criminal records, many people do not know that they are eligible, cannot afford the fees required, or need an attorney’s help to navigate the system. Marking an important step forward in the state’s criminal justice reform efforts, clean slate legislation would modernize the criminal justice system by automatically clearing the criminal records of people who have paid their debt to society.
Even after people have paid their debt to society, a criminal record can haunt them for life, much like a scarlet letter. In Michigan, around 500,000 people with criminal records face barriers to housing, education, and employment every day. Though many are eligible to have their records cleared, as much as 95 percent of people do not apply for the process, which is costly and time-consuming. Clean slate legislation would automate the record-clearing process, removing the scarlet letter for thousands of Michiganders and providing them a real second chance at life.
"I just quit trying because I knew I would be judged for something I was so desperately trying to change. It followed me everywhere."
It took Catie Cartisano three years, an attorney, and $3,000 to get her criminal record cleared. Under Utah’s current law, people with certain criminal records are eligible to have their records cleared, but the process can be confusing and costly—and after 90 days, if you haven’t completed the process, it starts again. People with criminal records often face barriers to jobs, education, and housing that make it difficult for them to succeed and contribute to society. But after a record is cleared, a person is 11 percent more likely get a job and earn 22 percent higher wages. Clean slate legislation seeks to automate the record-clearing process to help people get the second chance they deserve.
Criminal records are often a barrier to employment, housing, and education opportunities. Utah’s current state laws allow people with certain criminal records to have their records cleared, though the process can be expensive and take years to finalize. The complicated expungement system continues to punish people who have already paid their debt to society. Clean slate legislation seeks to make this process easier by using technology to automatically clear criminal records for people with misdemeanors, minor infractions, acquittals, and dismissals. Clearing these criminal records will give Utahns the second chance they deserve.