WASHINGTON, D.C. — At a time when right and left agree on very little, today, a diverse group of more than 25 groups from across the political spectrum came together to launch a new national bipartisan criminal justice campaign known as “clean slate.”
Following decades of overcriminalization in the United States, between 70 million and 100 million—or 1 in 3—Americans now have some type of criminal record. In the digital era, with nearly 9 in 10 employers now using criminal background checks, any criminal record—no matter how old or minor—can be a life sentence to poverty.
Tens of millions of individuals are eligible to have their records expunged or sealed in court. But the complex process for filing a record-clearing petition—not to mention the exorbitant legal costs—means the vast majority never get the relief they need and deserve, a problem increasingly known as the second chance gap. For example, in the state of Michigan, fewer than 5 percent of individuals eligible to have their records set aside have been successfully able to do so.
A new policy called clean slate offers a technological solution: automated record-clearing for people who remain crime-free for a set period of time. Bipartisan clean slate legislation was signed into law in Pennsylvania in June 2018, with the support of a diverse coalition that brought together the left and the right, as well as directly affected communities, business, law enforcement, and even professional athletes. Now the policy is gaining bipartisan momentum in states across the country, with 70 percent of Americans supporting clean slate policies, across party lines.
“Automatic record-clearing is about removing barriers to opportunity and giving people a fair shot at a fresh start,” said David Plouffe, head of policy and advocacy at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. “On the heels of this deeply partisan election, clean slate is something we can all agree on. If we want America to succeed, we can’t leave up to one-third of our citizens behind—people who have made a mistake, been held accountable, and want to contribute should have that chance.”
“Our country was built on redemption and forgiveness, yet for millions of people who’ve paid their debt to society, it’s nearly impossible to truly start over,” said Mark Holden, senior vice president and general counsel at Koch Industries Inc. “If we want fewer people committing crimes and going back to prison, we should break down barriers that prevent individuals from putting their past mistakes behind them. We support implementing clean slate, because it’s a bipartisan solution that will make our country safer and create second chances for those who are ready to move on with their lives.”
“Children are at the heart of everything that we do at the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, but we know that children live in families, and families live in communities. If we want children to thrive, their parents have to have access to quality jobs and their communities have to be equitable,” said Tameshia Bridges Mansfield, program officer at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. “So when the data tell us that 1 in 2 children has a parent with a criminal record—a condition that limits their employment and earning options—we take that seriously and look for partners to craft systemic solutions. Clean slate and the work that CAP is doing with this campaign is one very promising solution.”
“A criminal record shouldn’t be a life sentence to poverty,” said Neera Tanden, president and CEO of the Center for American Progress. “Following decades of mass incarceration and overcriminalization, as many as 1 in 3 Americans now has some type of criminal record, which can create lifelong obstacles to nearly every pillar of economic security—employment, housing, education, and more. By making record-clearing automatic once someone remains crime-free, states have the chance to make a huge dent in their poverty rates by helping people return to work and provide for their families—strengthening our economy while saving taxpayer dollars. CAP is excited to see momentum for clean slate automatic record-clearing laws spread to states across the country, and we look forward to working with this transpartisan group to break down barriers to stability and prosperity for millions of Americans.”
“Earlier this year, my fellow Player Coalition members and I were proud to see our great commonwealth of Pennsylvania become a national leader on second chances and pass the Clean Slate Act,” said Malcom Jenkins, co-founder of the Players Coalition. “Now, Pennsylvania’s Clean Slate Act is using technology to automatically clear criminal records after someone remains crime-free for a set period of time. People don’t need lawyers, they don’t need to pay a fee, they don’t need to understand the legal system, and we’re proud supporters of this act, and we’re excited to see other state following in Pennsylvania’s footsteps—states like Michigan, Colorado, South Carolina, and more. And also, folks who don’t agree on anything else coming together to support them. Just because you made a mistake in the past doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be able to contribute in the future.”
“Code for America is excited to join as a partner in the Clean Slate Campaign. Our vision is to create a blueprint for automatic record clearance of all eligible criminal records across the country by working with government to fundamentally rethink the process of record clearance, leveraging technology and user-centered design to reinvest in communities by removing barriers to employment, housing, health, and education,” said ST Mayer, chief program officer at Code for America.
This new initiative will support local organizations working to advance clean slate automated record-clearing at the state and county level, with initial investments from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative announced today in Michigan, Colorado, and South Carolina. Investments will also support research to help the criminal justice community make more informed and equitable decisions around record-clearing, while fostering state and national collaboration to advance clean slate policies. The launch of the national campaign builds on early investments from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, which was one of the earliest supporters of the clean slate policy model.
The campaign is also launching a new website that includes research, information, and tools that advocates can use to launch clean slate campaigns in their own states. To learn more about clean slate, and for a full list of partner organizations, visit www.cleanslatecampaign.org.