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Ernst, Casey Push to Give Americans a “Clean Slate,” Seal Records for Past Low-Level, Nonviolent Offenses

The bipartisan, bicameral legislation would remove barriers to employment for millions of Americans, giving folks with past nonviolent and low-level crimes a second chance

WASHINGTON – During National Reentry Week and “Second Chance” Month, U.S. Senators Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and U.S. House Representatives Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.) and Guy Reschenthaler (R-Pa.) are introducing the bipartisan and bicameral Clean Slate Act to give more than 70 million Americans with low-level and nonviolent criminal records a second chance to fully participate in society.
The legislation would remove major barriers for many Americans in finding employment, securing housing, and accessing education by automatically sealing the federal records of individuals convicted of low-level, nonviolent drug offenses after they successfully complete their sentence.
“Even after paying their debt to society, oftentimes those who have been charged with low-level, nonviolent misdemeanors face significant barriers to employment, housing, and other necessities. Giving folks a ‘clean slate’ with this bipartisan and bicameral legislation is a commonsense criminal justice reform to offer a second chance to millions, while keeping our communities safe,” said Senator Joni Ernst.
“Automated record sealing is a critical step to help get our economy back on track as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and in the ongoing fight for criminal justice reform. Too many Americans are not given a full and fair second chance because they are burdened by criminal records for nonviolent convictions or arrests that did not result in a conviction,” said Senator Casey. “With nearly half of U.S. children having at least one parent with a criminal record, automatically sealing these records will help us invest in our Nation’s future by ensuring millions of parents with minor criminal histories aren’t prohibited from fully participating in the workforce or finding safe and affordable housing for their families.”
Rebecca Vallas, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress
“In the digital era, even a minor criminal record can be a life sentence to poverty and joblessness that no judge ever handed down. While most states allow at least some records to be cleared, to allow people to move on with their lives and provide for their families, it’s long past time policymakers brought record-clearing to the federal level. This historic legislation would, for the first time, create a path to clearing federal records by petition, while establishing automatic record-clearance starting with low-level federal drug records—an impactful platform to build on. This legislation could not be more timely or urgently needed, as our nation seeks to recover from the COVID-19 crisis. Workers with records were already facing double-digit unemployment rates pre-pandemic, when the overall unemployment rate was 3 to 4 percent. We’ll never ‘build back better’ if we leave behind 70 million people with criminal records. Removing barriers to employment for workers with records is critical to ensuring a full and equitable recovery.”
Patrick Purtill, Director of Legislative Affairs, Faith and Freedom Coalition
“People who have paid their debt to society for low-level, nonviolent offenses deserve to be welcomed back into society. This is precisely the goal of the criminal justice system. We want people to pay their debts and amend their lives. Those who do it, should be rewarded and restored—for their good, their families’ good, and in the best interest of our communities and our states. Sealing the records of low-level, nonviolent ex-offenders after they have successfully completed their sentences will help reduce recidivism, strengthen families and communities, and provide a pathway to redemption for people who want to reform their lives.”
Inimai Chettiar, Federal Director, Justice Action Network
“A criminal record, even for a low-level drug offense, can lead to a lifetime of obstacles, making it hard for people to find meaningful employment and stable housing, to provide for their families and contribute to their communities. The Clean Slate Act would provide a second chance for people who have turned their lives around, and it’s a perfect way to mark Second Chance Month. Criminal justice reform is still an issue where both parties can come together, and we are grateful to Senators Ernst and Casey, and Representatives Blunt Rochester and Reschenthaler, for reaching across the aisle on this critical issue.”
Heather Higginbottom, President, PolicyCenter, JPMorgan Chase & Co.
“JPMorgan Chase is committed to giving people with criminal backgrounds a second chance through inclusive hiring and by supporting common sense public policy measures like the Clean Slate Act. Creating a process for clearing low-level nonviolent federal records, and streamlining the process through automation, will help people get their foot in the door, pursue stable career pathways and give back to their communities.”
More than 1 in 3 adults have some form of a criminal record, keeping them from participating in many facets of everyday life as nearly nine in ten employers, four in five landlords and three in five colleges utilize background checks to screen applicants.
Currently, the federal government lacks any meaningful way to clear federal criminal records, even for records that might not have resulted in a conviction. The Clean Slate Act aims to address this issue by automatically sealing federal arrest records for individuals not convicted and records for individuals convicted of low-level, nonviolent drug offenses after successfully completing their sentence. It would also establish new procedures to allow individuals to petition a federal district judge to review and potentially seal records for other nonviolent offenses that are not automatically sealed.
The Clean Slate Act is endorsed by Americans for Tax Reform, Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, Business Roundtable, Center for American Progress, Code for America, Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, Due Process Institute, Faith and Freedom Coalition, JPMorgan Chase, Justice Action Network, R Street Institute, Responsible Business Initiative, and Right on Crime.