News release from Congregations Organized for a New Connecticut:
State and local elected leaders, clergy members, criminal justice advocates, and formerly-incarcerated individuals gathered in Hartford today in support of Connecticut’s “Clean Slate” legislation, which would allow for automatic expungements of criminal records for individuals who have completed their sentence and also remained crime-free for three years after a misdemeanor and five years after a non-violent felony. The bill was voted out of the Judiciary Committee earlier this month.
Currently, one-in-three Americans have a criminal record. For these people, even after they’ve fully paid their dues to society and remained crime-free, they face continued discrimination and lost opportunity as the vast majority of employers, landlords, and colleges use background checks to screen applicants. The result is that even a minor infraction made long-ago can follow a person their entire lives, essentially condemning them to a life sentence of poverty.
The current system also harms Connecticut’s economy. One recent study estimated that $87 billion in economic activity is lost each year in the United States due to obstacles associated with criminal records, with Connecticut’s portion of that lost economic activity standing at more than $1 billion. Connecticut’s Clean Slate bill would help negate these losses by allowing more citizens to re-enter their local communities and their local economy through improved access to jobs, housing, and continued education.
“This important legislation will help level the playing field for Connecticut’s racial minorities,” said Reverend Anthony Bennett of Mt. Aery Baptist Church in Bridgeport and Co-Chair of CONECT. “Despite important gains in criminal justice reform here in Connecticut, racial minorities are still far more likely to have a criminal record, even surpassing national averages. That’s just unacceptable here in Connecticut. We can and should do better, and this year we can start by passing common-sense Clean Slate legislation.”
“Clean Slate would enable and empower those who have paid their debt to society to become fully re-integrated into their societies with good jobs, fair housing, a quality education and a chance to contribute to their community and our local economy,” said Reverend Megan Lloyd Joiner of the Unitarian Society of New Haven.
“The time for Clean Slate is now. Today tens of thousands live with stigma of criminal record,” said Phil Kent of Congregation Mishkan Israel in Hamden, CT. “We say if you do the time and pay your debt you can return to society, but not in Connecticut–not yet.”
“A criminal record should not be a life sentence to unemployment, underemployment, and poverty,” said Sen. Gary Winfield, co-chair of the Judiciary Committee and a primary sponsor of the bill. “Connecticut’s Clean Slate bill will give thousands of Connecticut citizens a better chance at economic opportunity. It’s the fair thing to do, and it will help bolster our local economy at the same time.”
“Clean Slate is about simple fairness,” said Rep. Steve Stafstrom, co-chair of the Judiciary Committee and a primary sponsor of the bill. “It’s about more than just finding a job, it’s also about access to a quality education and a safe place to live. At a time when so many Americans, and especially people of color, are facing an uphill batter for equality and opportunity, this bill is a simple but incredibly effective way to give more people a shot at success.”
“The Clean Slate Act will continue to make Connecticut more just for those seeking a second chance,” said Senator Marilyn Moore (D-Bridgeport). “Our society must strive to be equitable and fair for all our citizens. Together with open hearts and open minds we can remove barriers and ensure a person that has served his or her time for a crime is not sentenced to a life of punishment. With a clean slate people can get a job, find housing, and fully re-enter society.”
“My goal here today is not only to get my own record expunged, but also to help the men in my houses, and all those across the state whose nonviolent, drug-related crimes are well in the past and who deserve a chance at a future,” said Richard DelValle, an advocate for the Clean Slate legislation who runs recovery houses in New Haven for men battling the disease of addiction.
“A person, who made a mistake and paid his debt to society, shouldn’t be shunned forever,” said Lonnie Spaulding, advocate for Clean Slate Legislation who shared his personal story at the event. “Their record shouldn’t keep them from finding employment or getting loans or Pell Grants to go back to school and find decent-paying jobs.”
Today’s event was hosted by Congregations Organized for a New Connecticut (CONECT), a collective of churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, and civic organizations from New Haven and Fairfield Counties–representing more than 20,000 people from different races, faith backgrounds, and living in both cities and suburbs–that have joined together to take action on social and economic justice issues of common concern. CONECT has made an impact on issues as varied as gun violence, health insurance rates, police reform, immigrant rights, and more.