A rally for the Clean Slate Act (photo: Emil Cohen/NYC Council Media Unit)
With the end of this year’s legislative session in Albany quickly approaching, we must seize the opportunity to pass critical reforms that will have a real impact on advancing racial and economic equity in our state. The Clean Slate Act holds the potential for meaningful progress in our fight for justice, directly impacting 2.3 million New Yorkers. The passage of this bill by the State Legislature will affirm New York’s principles and prioritization of equity, and it is past time for serious legislative action to afford fairness and dignity to all our residents.
Since 1922, FPWA has fought to achieve social and economic well-being for greater New York’s most vulnerable by advocating for just public policies and strengthening human service organizations. Each year, we reach approximately 1 million New Yorkers through our more than 170 member organizations.
Our centennial year marks an unprecedented moment in New York’s history; as we emerge from a public health and economic crisis, race-based inequities and the deepened needs of New Yorkers have been laid bare. FPWA is committed to advancing policies that will bring impactful and sustainable change, which is precisely why we strongly support and call for the immediate passage of the Clean Slate Act (S.1553C/A.6399B), sponsored by Assemblymember Catalina Cruz and Senator Zellnor Myrie.
Where individuals have have completed their sentences and have no new criminal convictions during the waiting period, the Clean Slate Act would automatically seal misdemeanor conviction records after three years and felony conviction records after seven years for all convictions except sex offenses. With this reform, criminal records will be sealed for civil purposes with some exceptions such as for gun licensing. To be eligible under Clean Slate, a person must have served their full sentence and cannot be on community supervision, including probation and parole.
It is simple: the Clean Slate Act would allow an eligible person who has served their time and paid their dues the opportunity to fully invest in their rehabilitation by giving them a fresh start; a clean slate. A clean slate that would remove known debilitating barriers to employment, housing, and education, and allow access to critical supports necessary for real mobility and opportunity.
This is not just a matter of economic justice. This is a matter of morality, of redemption, and of dignity. Even after serving their sentences and returning to their communities, too many with convictions live in a state of perpetual punishment that tears families apart and maintains a painful cycle of intergenerational trauma and economic insecurity.
The impact of this continued and additional punishment beyond sentences already served reverberates across children, families, and entire communities. Children that grow up in poverty are far more likely to remain living in poverty throughout their lives. By lifting the barriers to full participation, individuals can obtain the jobs and housing necessary to lift their households out of poverty. By design, our systems - including the legal system - criminalize poverty. Today, our brothers and sisters return to their communities to find themselves locked out of opportunity, locked out of the very essentials that we all need to live with dignity – a job, a secure roof over our heads, an education. How is this justice?
If we are committed to advancing equity and inclusion in New York, we must take steps to end the perpetual punishment of those who are justice-involved. Clean Slate offers the only path forward for New York. Clean Slate is an inclusive, common-sense bill that will have an immediate impact on the quality of life for New Yorkers in every corner of the state. It is an anti-poverty bill with broad-based support that will strengthen our state's economy.
At the heart of the Clean Slate movement are human beings — 2.3 million New Yorkers and their loved ones — suffering from the ongoing and often permanent bar against full participation in economic and civic life.
By helping to ensure that all New Yorkers can access stable employment and housing at a time when they are most needed, Clean Slate will revitalize our communities, which are safest when basic needs are met and individuals have the resources necessary to thrive.
As a state, we herald the principles of redemption and rehabilitation, but we are not allowing people to move beyond their past mistakes. Supporting Clean Slate simply does just that. Justice must not be delayed any longer for the 2.3 million New Yorkers held as prisoners by their convictions and subjugated to a lifetime of inequity.
Raysa S. Rodriguez is Chief Program and Policy Officer, FPWA. On Twitter @FPWA.