HUDSON — New legislation is being introduced in New York that, if passed, would automatically seal and later expunge some criminal records.
The Clean Slate New York campaign held an event Thursday announcing introduction of new legislation that would expunge criminal records after a certain number of years.
“Clean Slate is a racial justice jobs and housing bill that seeks to end the perpetual punishment of conviction records, in turn enabling the 2.5 million New Yorkers with conviction records to employment, housing, education and other opportunities they need to successfully re-enter and contribute to their communities,” said Quintin Cross, senior policy advisor for the Hudson/Catskill Housing Coalition.”
Advocates and some representatives in support of the bill met via Zoom on Thursday morning to discuss the proposed legislation.
The bill would work in a two-part process, said bill sponsor Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz, D-39. Under the proposed legislation, an individual’s criminal record would first be sealed, and after a certain number of years their record would be expunged, Cruz said.
“The first process is to seal the record,” Cruz said. “The conviction will be sealed for most civil purposes, like employment, like housing ... This will happen after one year for misdemeanors and three years for felonies.”
When a record is sealed, only people in the criminal-justice system, such as judges, district attorneys and police, will have access, Cruz said. Potential landlords or employers would not have access to sealed records.
“Then when you move to the second step, which is to expunge a record, it basically disappears,” Cruz said. “It will be expunged after five years for misdemeanors and seven years for felonies.”
Individuals on lifetime parole and registered sex offenders are not eligible.
“The inequity of formerly incarcerated community members has been ingrained and enforced in the policies of New York for far too long,” Assemblyman Demond Meeks, D-137, said. “It is completely unconscionable for any individual to be eternally deprived of a true second chance because society only views them as their past mistakes. Years-old convictions should not be a barrier for educational opportunities, for professional licences, for gainful employment.”
Under the legislation, individuals applying for housing in New York state would be permitted to tell potential landlords they do not have a conviction once their record has been sealed, said Samantha Reiser, staff attorney with the Legal Action Center.
“The question about what will happen when a conviction is sealed and what folks will have to report on a housing application is a little more complicated,” Reiser said. “It depends on where the person is. Assuming they are applying for housing in New York state where this law will be in effect, they would be able to say that they do not have a conviction once their record is sealed, at that initial sealing stage. If someone were applying for housing in New Jersey, this law, unfortunately, would not apply there.”
New York has a law that allows for criminal records to become permanently sealed, but unlike the proposed legislation, the 2017 law is not automatic. The Clean Slate New York website states too few people know how to apply for this or have the resources to do so. An estimated 600,000 New Yorkers are eligible to apply for their records to be sealed, but fewer than 2,500 have done so.
Michael “Zaki” Smith, policy entrepreneur at Next100, a policy think tank, said communities have been heavily impacted under the criminal justice system through overpolicing and the criminalization of poverty, addiction and mental health.
“I am one of the 2.3 million human beings in the state of New York with a criminal record,” Smith said. “And what’s most disturbing about this stat is that all of us have been serving a silent life sentence. A silent life sentence of legal discrimination, long after we have served our time. Denied access to employment, denied access to housing and the ability to educate ourselves, some of the most basic and fundamental rights a human being needs to sustain life.”
Cruz said she hopes the bill can be passed later this year.