“After we have served our time, what more debt do we owe?” On February 25th—his fiftieth birthday—Zaki Smith asked this question at the Clean Slate NY coalition’s press conference announcing the introduction of a bill to automatically expunge criminal records in the New York State legislature. Among other work he led as part of the coalition, Zaki co-authored the bill. A video of the press conference, beginning with Zaki speaking, is here and a press release follows. The bill introduction has received coverage in the New York Daily News (an op-ed and news coverage), PIX 11, Spectrum News, BK Reader, Astoria Post, QNS.com, News 12 Long Island, CBS 6 Albany, and Hudson Valley 360.
Clean Slate New York, a Statewide Campaign Fighting for Automatic Expungement of Conviction Records, Announces New Bill Sponsored by Senator Zellnor Myrie and Assembly Member Catalina Cruz
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 25th, 2021
Abigail Woodworth, [email protected], 212-243-1313
Katie Schaffer, [email protected], 646-265-2044
NEW YORK — Today, the Clean Slate NY campaign announced new legislation to end the perpetual punishment of the 2.3 million New Yorkers with a conviction record.
Watch the full press conference here. Photos available upon request.
Speakers included: formerly incarcerated advocates, faith leaders, survivor advocacy organizations, and business leaders alongside lawmakers Senator Jamaal Bailey, Assembly Member Catalina Cruz, and Assembly Member Demond Meeks. The Clean Slate NY campaign is led by The Bronx Defenders, Center for Community Alternatives, Community Service Society of New York, Exodus Transitional Community, Hudson/Catskill Housing Coalition, Legal Action Center, The Legal Aid Society, and Next100.
From employment, to housing, to higher education, a conviction record can cause a lifetime of blocked opportunity. For people returning to their communities after the completion of their sentence, these collateral consequences hold them back from meaningfully contributing to their families, community, and the broader state. A recent study found that within one year of expunging conviction records under a Michigan law, people were 11% more likely to be employed and earn 22% higher wages. Furthermore, decades of discriminatory over-policing and over-prosecution mean that the negative impacts and civil consequences of a conviction record fall mostly on Black and brown New Yorkers, their families, and communities in every part of the state.
Clean Slate will help ensure that New Yorkers are not punished in perpetuity by establishing a unique two-step process of first automatically sealing and later automatically expunging conviction records once a person has served their sentence.
Not only will this critical legislation enable New Yorkers to better provide for themselves and their families, but its impact will reverberate across the state by ensuring an equitable economic recovery in the wake of COVID-19. New York State loses money by keeping people with conviction records out of its economy, and employers lose access to a broad and talented applicant pool. One study found that people who serve time in prison lose an average of $484,400 in earnings over their lifetime. These lost earnings entrench poverty and worsen the racial wealth gap.
When people have stable jobs and housing, stronger, healthier, and safer communities are fostered for all. For too long, individuals with conviction records have faced steep barriers to fully participating in the life of our shared communities and the state’s economy. Automatic expungement can change this. The time to bend the arc further towards justice is now.
“We are all more than the worst thing we’ve ever done. But today, hundreds of thousands of people with criminal records have no idea if this is the day they might lose their job, their home, their access to healthcare or education. These people are our friends, neighbors and family members,” said Senate bill sponsor, Senator Zellnor Myrie. “New Yorkers with conviction records deserve a Clean Slate. The rest of us deserve to live in a state where our criminal legal system lives up to its highest ideals. Our communities will be stronger, safer and more stable if everyone is able to contribute to the best of their abilities. I am proud to sponsor this legislation.”
Assembly bill sponsor, Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz, stated, “As part of our ongoing pursuit of true criminal justice reform, we must focus on human dignity, fairness, and guaranteeing that individuals are not punished beyond their sentences. We must eliminate the collateral damage created by past conviction records. The Clean Slate Act ensures that people have the opportunity to fully and fairly participate in society. I am proud to sponsor this legislation, giving people the opportunity to return and meaningfully contribute to their communities, and to address the perpetual wrongs of over-policing, excessive prosecution, and racial injustice in our criminal legal system.”
Senator Jamaal T. Bailey said, “We must ensure that formerly incarcerated individuals are given a meaningful opportunity to re-enter. The Clean Slate Initiative tackles this directly by giving people a chance to start over – by automatically expunging past criminal records for those individuals who have paid their proverbial debt to society. Giving people a clean record would now allow them to fairly and fully participate in our communities – finally having legitimate access to employment, housing, and education without having to be concerned about stigma – and being able to move forward as productive members of our communities. The bottom line is, true rehabilitation requires economic sustenance and a roof over one’s head. In the wake of COVID-19, basic necessities have become even more essential to all New Yorkers. This is why this legislation is so necessary and timely. I would like to thank Senator Zellnor Myrie, and Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz for sponsoring this crucial piece of legislation and the Bronx Defenders, Center for Community Alternatives, Community Service Society of New York, Exodus Transitional Community, Hudson/Catskill Housing Coalition, Legal Action Center, The Legal Aid Society, and Next100 for spearheading this initiative.”
Assembly Member Demond Meeks said, “The inequity of formerly incarcerated community members has been ingrained and enforced within the policies of the state of New York for far too long. 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 licenses, or gainful employment. Automatic expungement is fundamental to reducing the systemic hurdles that disproportionately impact low-income individuals of color. It addresses the inherent misdeed of over-policing, excessive prosecution, and racial inequality in our criminal justice system. It is time to eliminate these barriers and restore lives. I believe in people. I believe in their capacity to change. And I stand in support of the Clean Slate Act.”
“Clean Slate is about strengthening communities across New York State,” stated the Clean Slate New York coalition. “It is common sense policy that promotes justice, stability, and safety for all – and its passage is more important than ever right now as New York faces the uphill battle of recovery from COVID. The State introduced conviction sealing through a 2017 law, but because it requires individual applications, fewer than .5% of eligible individuals have benefitted. Records clearance remains out of reach for most New Yorkers, worsening racial and economic inequality. We have the opportunity now to reverse course by ensuring more New Yorkers can access relief, and that all those who can benefit will – automatically.”
Michael “Zaki” Smith, Policy Entrepreneur with Next100, said, “Every human being in New York State that has a criminal record has been given a silent life sentence. New Yorkers with a criminal record have been reduced to second-class citizens long after they have served their time. After we have served our time, what other debt do we owe?”
Warren Ovalle, community leader with Center for Community Alternatives, said, “As a person with a record, I know the struggle of formerly incarcerated people seeking jobs in New York State. The discrimination in employment and housing impacts not just the individual, but their children and families. Clean Slate legislation would allow hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers with old convictions, who have satisfied all of the state’s requirements, to stop an endless cycle of punishment. We deserve a Clean Slate.”
“Programs like Clean Slate are great for business,” stated Adrian Hale, Sr. Manager of Workforce/Economic Development & Education Initiatives at the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce. “In fact, the Center for Economic Policy Research estimates that, in a good economy, shutting workers with felony convictions out of the labor market costs as much as $87 billion in lost GDP annually. Clean Slate will open up access to employment opportunities for job-seekers and provide access to an untapped talent source for employers. The best cure for inequality and the best way to spur upward mobility is unfettered participation in the economy.”
“As a business owner, the fact that a person applying for a job has a criminal history is less important to me than their ability to do the job. The fact is we’ve all done things we regret and we’ve all made mistakes. A criminal record is not a predictor of future lawless behavior. Instead of making it harder for someone with a record to find work, a place to live, or a future for themselves and their family, we should remove barriers preventing people from fully participating in society. That’s why we should all support expungement legislation. It’s not only a matter of fairness but common sense. Because we’re going to need everyone participating in the economy to recover, and return New York to a functioning, vibrant place to work and do business,” said Charles McCorkell, owner of Bicycle Habitat.
“As a proud New York employer, Cresco Labs supports any effort to build a vibrant, inclusive workforce by allowing those who have paid their debts to society the ability to return to the workplace without barriers or stigma. Cresco Labs supports this critical, long past due expungement legislation championed by Senator Myrie, Assembly Member Cruz, and the Clean Slate Coalition, that will help grow our economy and provide New Yorkers the opportunity to fill good jobs,” said Barrington Rutherford, Senior Vice President of Real Estate and Community Integration at Cresco Labs.
“As a result of pervasive employment background checks, people with conviction histories are often excluded from job opportunities. This discriminatory practice keeps millions of skilled workers from participating in the labor market,” said Deborah Wright, Political Director for the United Auto Workers, Region 9A. “As New York works to achieve economic recovery in the wake of the COVID pandemic, we must ensure that access to opportunity is equitable and inclusive of the millions of talented and hard-working New Yorkers who have records.”
Nikki Kateman, Political and Communications Director of Local 338 RWDSU/UFCW, stated, “As representatives of workers, we know all too well the many barriers that working people face as they pursue economic stability. Despite having paid their debts to society, those who have been justice-involved face significant roadblocks in employment, including the ability to move up the career ladder, which in the long-term has impacted countless families and communities. We’re proud to join with Senator Myrie, Assembly Member Cruz, and the Clean Slate New York coalition in support of common-sense legislation that would open doors to thousands of New Yorkers who have been left behind economically and socially.”
Rev. Kevin VanHook, Minister of Justice, Advocacy, and Change at Riverside Church, said, “We, as people who believe in redemption, have an opportunity to write a new story together. We can write a story where everyone can secure employment, steady income, stable homes, and affordable healthcare. We can write a story where we address the wrongs of over-policing, excessive prosecution, and racial injustice in our criminal legal system. We can write that story together by supporting the Clean Slate campaign. Rooted in supporting human dignity and fairness, Clean Slate will ensure that a criminal record no longer means a lifetime of blocked opportunities. And in the spirit of this season, as we prepare to witness ordinary resurrections, Clean Slate allows all of us to find new life on the other side. We call on all New Yorkers who believe in freedom to join the fight and take action today.”
“When a person has completed their sentence, their debt to society has been paid and redemption should be possible. But under our current system, New Yorkers with criminal records are perpetually locked out of opportunities, and the barriers to housing, employment and other basic life necessities often keep entire families stuck in poverty for generations,” said Reverend Peter Cook, Executive Director of the New York State Council of Churches. “Clean Slate policies are a moral imperative if we are to achieve true justice and equity in New York.”
Julia Shaw, Co-Director of the Criminalized Survivors Program of STEPS to End Family Violence, a program of Rising Ground, said, “Among the many people who would benefit from this legislation are criminalized survivors of intimate partner violence, who, after surviving the abuses of their partners, and often the erasure of their survivorship by the criminal legal system and the mainstream anti-violence movement, return to communities only to face tremendous barriers to housing, employment, and education.”