The recent editorial about Clean Slate legislation (“The wrong approach: Clean Slate Act legislation not a good way to achieve justice,” May 12) not only parrots the fear-mongering that we so often hear from law enforcement whenever reform of our criminal legal system is proposed, it also completely misses the mark on why New Yorkers need Clean Slate.
The editorial proposes that rather than enacting automatic expungement, the proverbial “we” must speak with employers to help reduce the stigma of a conviction. There is a fundamental flaw here. Continuing to punish people once they have served their sentences isn’t just unfair, it’s also bad policy.
For decades already, New York state has prohibited discrimination against individuals on the basis of their conviction record. Jurisdictions statewide have passed and continue to pass ban-the-box laws, and many educational employer-focused initiatives have strived to dispel the myths around hiring individuals with records. But these efforts have not been effective, nor do they end the perpetual punishment that individuals with conviction records are subjected to in all areas of life.
Clean Slate is common-sense legislation that would enhance our state’s economy as well as community safety by giving every New Yorker the chance to fully participate and meaningfully contribute to our shared society. Under the proposed law, an individual would only become eligible for expungement once they have served their sentences and completed all community supervision. And contrary to the editorial’s spurious suggestion, the Clean Slate Act would not expunge records for purposes of firearm possession.
Continuing to punish people indefinitely is completely counter-intuitive to the power we all possess to grow and change. When we deny our family members, friends and neighbors this chance, we only perpetuate stigma and deepen the underlying factors that often lead to convictions in the first place — a lack of social and economic opportunity.
I have seen and experienced firsthand how this plays out. At the Hudson/Catskill Housing Coalition, where I work as an organizer, I have met hundreds of formerly incarcerated people who are eager to get back on their feet but are repeatedly locked out of work. They deserve the opportunity to live safe and secure lives. They deserve a clean slate.
The writer is the civil rights manager at the Hudson/Catskill Housing Coalition and a member of the Clean Slate New York coalition.