Second Chances: Clearing Barriers and Expanding Access to Employment, Housing, and More

Millions Impacted by Criminal Records

Millions of Americans are burdened by criminal records, limiting their access to employment, housing, education, and even basic necessities. These records can act as invisible shackles, preventing individuals from rebuilding their lives and contributing positively to society. Fortunately, a growing movement is seeking to expand access to “second chances” by reforming the expungement and sealing of criminal records.

The Scope of the Problem:

  • Over 70 million Americans, nearly one in three adults, have a criminal record.
  • These records can be accessed not only by law enforcement but also by landlords, employers, and even the general public.
  • Even minor convictions or arrests, even those not resulting in convictions, can create significant barriers.
  • The collateral consequences extend beyond individuals, impacting families and communities, particularly those of color who are disproportionately affected by the criminal justice system.

Barriers to Reintegration:

  • Criminal records can severely limit employment opportunities, with nearly 9 in 10 employers conducting background checks.
  • Access to education and housing can also be restricted, impacting upward mobility and stability.
  • Civic engagement and public assistance can be limited, further marginalizing individuals with records.
  • The economic costs are substantial, with estimates of lost GDP due to employment barriers reaching billions annually.

Solutions for a Brighter Future:

  • Expanding Expungement and Sealing: More states are making a wider range of records eligible for expungement or sealing, including those for marijuana offenses and human trafficking.
  • Streamlining Procedures: Reducing waiting periods, lowering fees, and simplifying paperwork can make expungement and sealing more accessible.
  • Clean Slate Laws: Automated processes for expunging or sealing certain records are being implemented in some states, removing the burden of petitioning from eligible individuals.
  • Occupational Licensing Reform: Removing blanket bans and vague language in licensing regulations can open up opportunities for qualified individuals with records.

Addressing Concerns:

  • Research shows that individuals with expunged or sealed records are less likely to commit crimes than the general population.
  • Expungement and sealing can benefit society by boosting employment and reducing economic costs.
  • Public safety can be enhanced by focusing on rehabilitation and reintegration, not perpetuating barriers to success.

Expanding access to second chances through expungement and sealing reforms is not just about providing individuals with a clean slate; it’s about creating a more just and equitable society. By removing unnecessary barriers and investing in reintegration, we can unlock the potential of millions of Americans and strengthen our communities as a whole.