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January 14, 2021

"The Reintegration Agenda During Pandemic: Criminal Record Reforms in 2020"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new report from the Collateral Consequences Resource Center authored by Margaret Love and David Schlussel.  Here is part of this great report's "Overview":

Since 2013, every state legislature has taken at least some steps to chip away at the negative effects of a criminal record on the ability to earn a living, to access housing, education, and public benefits, and otherwise to fully reintegrate into society.  Some states have entirely remade their post-sentence relief systems.  Some state governors have also issued executive orders or class-wide pardons in support of this restoration effort.  Congress also has rather belatedly become interested in criminal records issues, limiting background checks in federal employment and contracting in 2019, and removing barriers to public benefits in 2020 spurred by the effects of the pandemic.

The past year saw a continuation of these legislative trends.  While fewer states enacted fewer laws in 2020 than in the preceding two years, evidently because of the disruptions caused by the pandemic, the fact that there was still considerable progress is testament to a genuine and enduring public commitment to a reintegration agenda.

In 2020, 32 states, the District of Columbia, and the federal government enacted 106 legislative bills, approved 5 ballot initiatives, and issued 4 executive orders to restore rights and opportunities to people with a criminal record.

As in 2019, a majority of the new laws in 2020 involve what we have come to call “record relief,” measures that operate on the criminal record itself to reduce its negative effect.  Record relief may limit public access through expungement or sealing, vacate or pardon the conviction, or avoid a conviction record through diversion or deferral of judgment.  Other restoration laws regulate discretionary decisionmakers that control access to the workplace, public benefits, and education. Still others expand the franchise, and curb driver’s license suspensions based on unpaid court debt or grounds unrelated to dangerous driving.

Approaches to record reform continue to vary widely from state to state, with respect to the type of relief, the specifics of who is eligible for it, the mechanics of delivery, and its effect. Yet despite this variety it is clear that there has been no flagging in the lively national conversation about how best to limit unwarranted record-based discrimination.

January 14, 2021 at 11:21 AM | Permalink

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