Clean SLATE: An Efficient Solution to a Messy Problem
The 2020 Louisiana legislative regular session will likely be forever remembered alongside the Covid pandemic. Originally it was thought the session may be entirely canceled but it became quickly recognized that was not happening. Working in a collaborative manner, the Justice and Accountability Center of Louisiana was able to keep our Clean Slate expungement reform alive. As such four of the six bills that JAC supported were passed.
Act 70 (formerly HB-178): Signed by Governor John Bel Edwards Act 70 allows judges to set aside a conviction or dismiss nonviolent drug related matters if an individual successfully completes a recovery program. The bill passed 89-0 in the House and 33-1 in the Senate.
Act 71 (formerly HB-179): Signed by Governor John Bel Edwards Act 71 removes the 10 year of employment documentation for specific convictions. This is particularly helpful for those individuals who struggle to find work or find barriers to employment. It passed 92-0 in the House and 31-0 in the Senate.
ACT 78 (formerly HB-241): Signed by Governor John Bel Edwards Act 78 will have a far reaching positive impact for those waiting for their expungement. The Act eliminates the secondary waiting period for those who are ALREADY eligible for multiple expungements. It will allow for greater reentry success sooner. Act 78 passed the House by a 73-19 vote and in the Senate 28-3.
HR 67: Sent to the Secretary of State, HR 67 will continue the important work of the Clean Slate Task Force which aims to study the impact that an automatic expungement process will have for the state of Louisiana. The research, reports, and meetings this task force will have will continue to shed light on the importance of automatic expungements and the common sense solution it provides to keep Louisianans safe and employed.
Areas for Future Improvement:
Our legislative successes have certainly improved Louisiana's criminal justice system for the better. We continue to focus on making common sense legislative reforms like Clean Slate because it is in the best interest of our citizens. Two of our supported bills did not pass but we are not giving up as they are integral to creating an automated expungement system and will help citizens towards improving their life outcomes.
HB-510 would have allowed the Louisiana State Police to share confidentially de-identified criminal justice system data with the Task Force's technical assistance partners so that we can guide the scope and process of Clean Slate automation for Louisiana moving forward. Understanding the scope and process of Clean Slate in Louisiana helps to anticipate costs for a new system. We aim to bring a similar bill back in the near future.
SB-220 provided the opportunity for a shift in the way Louisiana thinks of expungements. It would have jump started our economy and got more people back to work by reducing expungement wait times, providing opportunities for all formerly incarcerated people to benefit from expungement, and eliminating financial barriers to expungement for first time offenders. It would have reduced cleansing periods for misdemeanors from 5 to 2 yr and felonies from 10 to 5 among other reform minded goals. We look forward to bringing a similar bill back in the future as we know wait times are a critical barrier to expungements for many.
Santa Clara University School of Law Professor Colleen V. Chien published research that focuses on the "second chance gap," described as "the gap between eligibility and delivery of second chance relief for those with criminal records." Her research estimates that 25 to 30 million individuals are eligible to clean their criminal records, partially or fully, but haven't. The paper also confirms that when individuals do clear their records they experience better employment and income outcomes. Chien argues that low awareness, delays, and high costs discourage people from getting records expunged. To close this second chance gap the paper argues for automated expungements like Clean Slate.
HB 510, proposed by Louisiana House Representative Ted James (District 101), received strong support by researchers from the University of Michigan's Empirical Legal Studies Center. The researchers, who study the impact of criminal records on a person's life outcomes, hailed HB 510 as a way to, "allow for the most transparent decision-making possible in refining and moving forward on new Clean Slate policies under consideration in Louisiana."
The researchers have their own experience with data transparency working alongside the Michigan State Police. The collaboration between the two groups in Michigan led to important findings that would not have happened without sharing this crucial data. Among their findings researchers determined that only 6.5% of individuals eligible for expungements ever received one. A hugely positive outcome the researcher found was that those who do receive expungements have "extremely low" re-arrests, similar to those of the general population. Another positive they highlighted was that wages of those who received expungements go up 25%.
A taskforce created by HCR 106 (2019) issued recommendations on how to make the process of expunging old criminal records less complex. Criminal records are a major barrier to employment, housing and opportunity for one third of Louisianans, and as the country faces a public health emergency and an economic downturn, it is especially critical that Louisianans that have served their sentences get a fair shot at a fresh start.
The taskforce report urges the legislature to move forward with policies that could help decrease government-related record clearing costs, and reduce unemployment across Louisiana. According to the report, members of the taskforce included: “The Louisiana District Attorneys Association, the Louisiana Supreme Court, the Louisiana Clerks of Court, the Louisiana Public Defender Board, the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association, the Louisiana State Police, the Justice and Accountability Center of Louisiana, and Voice of the Experienced.”
“Louisiana law already makes many people eligible to expunge their criminal records after they have completed their sentences. But because we have an overly complicated, confusing process, and the highest expungement cost in the nation, many people never get the clean slate the law offers,” said Vanessa Spinazola, Executive Director of the Justice and Accountability Center. “1 in 2 Louisiana children have a parent with a criminal record. We can remove barriers to getting a good job and reduce recidivism if we streamline this process. Especially as Louisiana faces greater economic uncertainty, our government should do all they can to clear the way for hardworking Louisianans to get back to work and provide for their families.”
The process of obtaining an expungement is complicated. It requires people to purchase background checks and look up dates of incarceration from the Department of Corrections. Even after navigating this messiness, Louisianans face the HIGHEST EXPUNGEMENT COSTS IN THE COUNTRY AT $550. Complicating matters, Louisiana courts are backed up, overstressed, and economically inefficient delaying expungements for the public. Because of the complicated process, only a small fraction of those eligible to receive expungements get them. Even worse while people may receive an expungement there is no guarantee their sealed records will not show up in background checks. Further federal laws like the Fair Credit Reporting Act allow companies to report incorrect information including sealed records and arrests that did not lead to convictions. It is on individual citizens to notify and dispute agencies that the information is incorrect.
Nationwide, the U.S. economy loses $87 billion by shutting
otherwise qualified individuals out of the economy.
In Louisiana 1.2 million citizens, over one third of the
state, have an arrest or conviction record that can
undermine their efforts to obtain gainful employment.
This has a ripple effect not only on the economy but also for
families: almost half of U.S. children have one parent with a
criminal record. Studies have shown this impacts children's
development, school performance, and outcomes in
Clean Slate legislation provides an efficient fix to Louisiana's troubled expungement system. Proposed legislation would create an automated system allowing those who are eligible to have their records sealed. Other states like New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Utah have passed Clean Slate legislation with support from both parties. In Pennsylvania, the first state to pass Clean Slate legislation, over 30 million records have been sealed in its first year alone! Passing Clean Slate legislation would help get Louisianans back on their feet, into good jobs, and moving forward with their lives. JAC needs YOUR help in telling your representatives to pass Clean Slate legislation NOW!
See how Utah's law enforcement, formerly incarcerated, district attorneys, and judges came together to pass common sense Clean Slate legislation below.
2020 Legislative Session Recap
Clean Slate in the News
2019 Clean Slate Taskforce Report Completed! The taskforce issued recommendations on how to make expungement less complex. Read here!
Read our two page fact sheet here.
Law enforcement officials support clean slate. Read here!
Read NFL players Malcolm Jenkins and Torrey Smith's article on the importance of Clean Slate. Read here!
Research finds expungements lead to increased wages and decreased recidivism. Read here!
Leading conservative policy group R-Street has supported Clean Slate initiatives. Read here!
Learn more about the national Clean Slate movement by reading the Clean Slate Toolkit here!