Gov. Hochul and the New York Legislature have the opportunity now to positively change Harlem and other similar communities by passing and enacting the Clean Slate Act before the end of this legislative session. Clean Slate will afford formerly incarcerated individuals to re-enter the community with the opportunity to be productive contributors to the economic, social, and civic vibrancy of Harlem and beyond. Employment, housing, and educational opportunities are the most significant elements for successful re-entry, and while not a panacea, Clean Slate will eliminate systemic and artificial barriers in those areas. As we emerge from the pandemic, we must use every tool at our disposal to support the economic health of all communities and support all those who wish to positively participate having served their time and paid their debt for past conduct. The Clean Slate Act is a major step in this direction.
The Clean Slate Act is economic legislation. lt will automatically seal conviction records for 2.3 million New Yorkers, eliminating barriers these records pose to employment, housing, and educational opportunities. ln place of a perpetual cycle of punishment and disassociation from the community, Clean Slate supports positive incentives—real opportunities for a job, a home, and to learn new and productive skills—and the chance to give back.
For Harlem and similar communities, creating these incentives is critical. Indeed, for all of New York, breaking the cycle of incarceration and re-incarceration, and allowing individuals the opportunity to move forward with their lives and contribute to their communities, increasing workforce participation and driving an inclusive economic recovery, must be embraced.
Whether it is small independent businesses in Harlem, or large multinational corporations headquartered in New York, employers are struggling to fill open positions. We can’t afford to relegate countless New Yorkers who are unfairly restrained by old conviction records to be sidelined from the job market. Over 1 million New Yorkers would be eligible to have their records automatically sealed once the law becomes effective. Removing the roadblocks for these job seekers would help combat workforce shortages and broaden the talent pool for small local businesses and large international companies alike.
Clean Slate will potentially bring other meaningful economic benefits once it’s passed. Formerly incarcerated New Yorkers collectively lose $2 billion in wages each year because they are shut out from entering the workforce: this hurts New York’s economic growth and shrinks tax revenue. Those who serve time in prison lose an average of $484,400 in earnings over their lifetime, which entrenches poverty, deepens economic inequality and makes our communities less safe by exacerbating the root drivers of crime and violence.
In contrast, opening up access to job opportunities leads to tangible economic gains for individuals with conviction histories, and those increased earnings flow back into local economies. ln Michigan, a state that passed records clearance laws a few years ago, research showed that within one year of clearing their records, people were 11% more likely to be employed, and their average wages increased by 22%. Clean Slate can result in similar gains, which will mean more money in residents’ pockets to be spent in New York City.
We applaud the support for Clean Slate that has already come together. We are proud to stand alongside Fortune 500 companies like Microsoft, Verizon and JPMorgan Chase, our fellow Chambers of Commerce in Brooklyn and Rochester, The Business Council of New York and nearly 50 major New York law firms to champion this legislation, all of which recognize the economic benefits and increased access to talent Clean Slate can deliver. We also stand with those organizations that are working tirelessly to support the productive re-entry of formerly incarcerated individuals, including Exodus Transitional, the Fortune Society, Getting Out Staying Out, the Second U Foundation, and others. The efforts by this broad group of businesses and other organizations highlight on a fundamental level why Clean Slate is necessary and can work —when someone has served time, they should be able to move on with their life and have the opportunity to contribute to their communities without facing antiquated barriers. Clean Slate is a huge step in changing a negative paradigm to a positive by giving people the chance to contribute without facing discrimination from conviction records that effectuates the perpetual punishment merry-go-round. This is a critical step forward for renewed prosperity and justice.
The time to pass the Clean Slate Act is now. We urge the Legislature and the Governor to utilize this opportunity to pass the original version of the Clean Slate Act and bring relief to millions of New Yorkers and their families. Businesses, our Harlem community and the entire State of New York deserve nothing less.