NEW YORK NOW – State legislators in New York held a virtual hearing with stakeholders today on a proposal to automatically expunge the records of people convicted of certain crimes after they have served their sentences.
Advocates call the legislation ‘Clean Slate’ and say it would address the issue of criminal records disproportionately affecting minorities.
Assembly member Catalina Cruz, a Democrat from Queens who sponsors the bill, participated in an online rally with supporters before the hearing, saying the intent is to reintegrate people into civilian life.
“When you have paid your dues to society, and you come out, and you want to get a job, and you want to be able to have a roof over your head, and you can’t even do that, that’s not living,” Cruz said.
Under the proposal, defendants on parole or probation wouldn’t qualify. But even with that requirement, Cruz says nearly 2.5 million New Yorkers could benefit from the measure.
Among those people is Florence Walker, who said that trying to come back from a felony conviction as a single parent was remarkably difficult when it came to education, work, and housing.
“Since I’ve been released, I’ve been moved from shelter to shelter, four different shelters in the past 2 years, before I could obtain housing,” Walker said. “I couldn’t apply for Section 8 again because of my felony. I could not apply for public housing, because of my felony.”
During Thursday’s hearing, members of law enforcement shared a number of concerns about the practical effects of the bill. One of them centered around access to a person’s criminal record as it relates to low-level domestic incidents to better inform how they respond to future calls.
Another issue raised was a lack of supplemental services to help people get back on their feet. Some stakeholders said that even if there is no conviction on a person’s record, having no support system upon leaving incarceration leads to recidivism.
On the Republican side, Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt, R-Niagara, said in a statement after the hearing Thursday that he opposed the measure.
“If passed, this legislation would pose a serious threat to public safety. Day care providers would have no way to ensure the people they hire to look after your children are not violent criminals,” Ortt said.
“Landlords would have no way to ensure the person living next to you is not a violent criminal. The legislation would even seal the conviction of inmates before they were released from prison.”
The bill is in the Codes Committee in both the State Senate and the Assembly.