Many people in New York State and City with criminal records face a host of obstacles as they reintegrate into society after completing their sentencing or probation.
The Clean Slate Coalition has been crusading to get a new law passed, called S1553A/A6399, to help formerly incarcerated people, especially those in Black and Brown communities, have basic opportunities such as employment, housing, federal student aid, and the right to vote.
The bill would automatically clear a person’s criminal record once they become eligible in New York State, and has overwhelming support from the public, says statistics.
Lawmakers, advocates, and those with personal experiences held a virtual rally on Tuesday, June 29, demanding that the legislature reconvene this summer to pass the Clean Slate Act.
“New York State must not delay justice any longer for the 2.3 million New Yorkers shackled by their convictions and perpetually excluded from our state’s economy and civil life,” said Garrett Smith, statewide organizer at Center for Community Alternatives. “With a two-way agreement already reached and a clear commitment from both houses, the time is now.”
According to a Sentencing Project report, Black and Latinx people comprise about 29% of the U.S. population, yet they make up over half of the U.S. prison population with notable “disparities exist[ing] for both the least and most serious offenses.”
Black citizens, men in particular, said the report, “are most exposed to the collateral consequences associated with a criminal record.” Black applicants looking for employment are already less likely to get a call back compared to whites and there is an even more pronounced discrimination if they have a criminal record. Studies show that whites with criminal records, however, receive better treatment than Blacks without criminal records, said the report.
These issues are not only social or economic but branch out into political power as well since many states do not give people with felony records the right to vote. “Felony disenfranchisement rates for voting-age African Americans reached 7.4% in 2016—four times the rate of non-African Americans,” said the report.
“I had high hopes when I came home from prison, but I experienced roadblock after roadblock,” said Michelle DelVecchio, a member of Center for Community Alternatives and formerly incarcerated. “I was rejected from job after job. I have all the skills and wherewithal to succeed in life, but my past convictions have meant that I don’t have a real second chance.”
Senate Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris, Sen. Zellnor Myrie (D-Brooklyn), and Assemblymembers Catalina Cruz (D-Queens), Latrice Walker (D-Brooklyn), and Demond Meeks (D-Rochester) attended the meeting to lend their support for the bill.
“We have a moral imperative to pass Clean Slate—not later, not next year, but now,” said Myrie, lead sponsor of the Clean Slate Act.
“We cannot wait to get this done. There is a reason why all of us are assembled here fighting for Clean Slate and that is because we understand the power of rehabilitation, of redemption. This is about opportunity. This is about public safety. This is about housing. Clean Slate cannot wait. Let’s get it done,” said Myrie.
The Senate and Assembly have currently reached an agreement and commitment to pass the bill and seal certain convictions, but have not yet done so.
Smith said that entire families and communities have suffered long enough, and there’s no reason to continue to wait until 2022 to pass the bill. “It’s fueling generational curses, it’s fueling generational traumas. We’re here to break these cycles,” said Smith in the meeting. “It isn’t a handout. I want to be clear, Clean Slate isn’t a handout, but it does offer a real and fair second chance.”
Gianaris said he looks forward to getting Clean Slate across the finish line soon.
“What we need to do is to make it easier for people to get work, get schooling, and provide for their families. This will benefit everyone. We almost got it done a few weeks ago and we should get it done as soon as we possibly can to get things moving for so many people,” stated Gianaris.
While the Senate and Assembly tentatively agree to the bill’s passing, Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson moved to add targeted investments to break the cycle of incarceration to the city’s $98.7 billion Recovery Budget in an effort to combat the recurrence of gun violence.
They announced an adopted version of the budget this Wednesday, June 30, that uses housing and employment as an anti-violence measure by pouring millions into reentry programs for the formerly incarcerated.
It sets aside $57 million for housing with healthcare and employment counseling for justice for those released, $6.6 million to expand the “Jails to Jobs” programs, and $5 million for peer mentorship for incarcerated individuals and those who are reentering with Crisis Management System or violence interrupter organizations.
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