A clean slate or a danger to public safety? |

Forty-three to eight. That’s how city council members voted on Resolution 121, which asks the state legislature and governor to approve the Clean Slate Act, a bill that would automatically seal conviction records after someone has served a sentence and is off probation or parole without incurring further charges or convictions after three years (misdemeanor) or seven years (felonies). Sexual offenses do not apply.

The differences of opinion are strong.

Councilwoman Nantasha Williams (D-St. Albans), chair of the council’s civil and human rights committee, is confident the bill would be life changing.

“Clean Slate will be transformative for so many New Yorkers who have been disproportionately impacted by criminalization – especially those who face barriers to employment due to prior convictions or arrests that do not result in a criminal charge or conviction, but still show up on background checks or public records searches,” Williams said via email. “The Clean Slate Act will help redress the balance by providing opportunities for people with a criminal record who have served their sentence and are ready to be productive members of society.”

Councilman Bob Holden (D-Maspeth), however, views the bill as an obstacle to public safety.

“It’s unfortunate that many of my city and state colleagues want to bend over backwards for the criminals, but not for the victims,” ​​Holden said via email. “There is no benefit to the public and it will only hinder law enforcement in their investigations.”

Council President Adrienne Adams (D-Jamaica) said the bill would remove barriers to accessing education, housing, jobs and other economic opportunities that have been blocked for 2.3 million New Yorkers due to an old record.

“Removing this barrier will not only benefit millions of New Yorkers and their families, but it will also boost our state’s economy, strengthen small businesses, and contribute to safety, stability and well-being. of our neighborhoods. The Council is proud to urge passage of the Clean Slate Act in our state legislature by passing Resolution 121,” Adams said in a prepared statement. “This is a model for how stakeholders can work together to advance opportunity for all New Yorkers, and we look forward to seeing the bill pass.”

One of the stakeholders is the Clean Slate NY coalition, which says formerly incarcerated people lose an average of $484,400 in lifetime income due to the aforementioned barriers.

Clean State NY steering committee member Emma Goodman says the bill is a no-brainer.

“A study found that it costs New York State almost $2 billion to exclude formerly incarcerated people from the workforce every year,” Goodman said. “It doesn’t count the human element that people should be moving forward in their lives. It’s just an economic perspective. We’re losing money by not letting people work and forcing them to be on welfare … They want to work and support their families, but they can’t because they don’t have those opportunities.

Unions supporting the bill include 1199SEIU, CWA District 1, District Council 37, Labourers’ Local 79, Mason Tenders District Council, RWDSU–Local 338, UAW Region 9A, Legal Services Staff Association, NOLSW/UAW 2320, New York City Peer Workforce Coalition, Joint Council No. 16 and New York State Nurses Association.

Three Fortune 500 companies, Microsoft, JPMorgan Chase and Verizon, also support the bill, which is sponsored by Congresswoman Catalina Cruz (D-Corona) in the lower house.

“As we continue to recover from the pandemic, businesses are adjusting to economic conditions and resuming their search for skilled workers. By reducing barriers to employment for those with criminal records, we will be able to get more people back to work faster,” a Verizon spokesperson said by email. “We believe that if someone hasn’t had a conviction for a number of years and [they] aren’t on parole, probation, or on the state registry, they should finally be able to get on with their lives. This measure will not end poverty or systemic racism, but it will do more to help people get back on their feet than all the criminal justice reforms of recent years combined. »

The bill aims to give families a second chance at life, Cruz said via email.

“If you commit a crime and pay your dues to society and then stay out of trouble, you should be able to find decent work and housing,” Cruz said. “This is an economic development bill that will help improve the lives of millions and I look forward to passing it before the end of this session.”

Councilman Jim Gennaro (D-Hillcrest) said he voted no in protest on behalf of his law-abiding constituents.

“Unless and until Albany enacts laws and policies to protect those in our city and state who obey the law and live in fear from the daily escalation of violence on our streets, I don’t want to hear about it – and I won’t support – ANYTHING Albany puts forward regarding criminal justice,” Gennaro said via email. “Board resolutions are of no consequence and only serve ‘to pat Albany on the back, my vote ‘no’ on this council resolution is my way of saying that Albany does not deserve a pat on the back when it comes to criminal justice issues – far from of that. Instead, we need Albany to support Mayor Adams. [public safety] Plan and support my constituents’ right to safe streets.

Councilwoman Joann Ariola (R-Ozone Park) said there are already laws in place to prevent previous convictions from blocking housing or employment.

“For example, ‘Ban the Box’ legislation…prevents landlords or employers from asking criminal history questions in most cases,” Ariola said in an email. “The Clean Slate Act, which completely erases criminal history and forensic data that could be vital to a future investigation, is just another hurdle for our law enforcement officers that will prevent them from doing their work and keep New Yorkers safe as possible.”

Councilwoman Vickie Paladino (R-Whitestone) thinks the bill is an attack on public safety and that there are better ways to provide second chances that balance accountability and compassion.

“Law-abiding citizens, such as employers and neighbors, have an absolute right to know if an individual has serious criminal convictions, especially for violent crimes,” Paladino told the Chronicle. “While I believe in second chances and generally support programs that can help ease the integration into society of those who have already been convicted, the answer most certainly is NOT to arbitrarily erase criminal records wholesale like this project. of law intends to do so.”

Goodman strongly disagrees with their point of view.

“It will strengthen families and communities and improve the state’s economy,” Goodman told the Queens Chronicle. “People with criminal convictions really struggle to survive financially and support themselves and their families. If we give people opportunities after their sentence has been served, we enable them to support themselves and their families. We are also reducing the likelihood of them ending up in the criminal justice system.

Dalvanie Powell, president of the United Probation Officers Association, shares Goodman’s sentiments.

“Every day, probation officers work to give New Yorkers involved in the criminal justice system a second chance and provide an alternative to incarceration,” Powell said via email. “We know people can change their lives, but they need resources like education and job training, housing, physical and behavioral health care, and the support of a trained and dedicated probation officer. If people demonstrate that they have become law-abiding citizens, they absolutely should have their records expunged.

Goodman does not believe the bill is about criminal justice reform because the people targeted by the legislation are no longer part of the system.

“Criminal justice reform is inaccurate,” Goodman said. “It’s economic justice and housing justice. It’s not really what district attorneys do. These are not people facing criminal charges or convictions. It allows people to work.

Goodman is cautiously optimistic that the bill, introduced as A.6399 by Cruz in the Assembly and S.1553 in the state Senate, passed before the end of the legislative session on June 2.

“It almost happened last June and it almost happened earlier this year, but it still hasn’t happened although everyone agrees that it’s a good idea”, a- she declared. “I hope the people of Albany can come together and stop putting politics ahead of the millions of people who can benefit from it and pass the bill next week.”


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Susan W. Lloyd