In a new focus on helping people with criminal histories participate in society successfully, at least 20 states have created or broadened records expungement laws since the beginning of 2017, says the Collateral Consequences Resource Center. Although law enforcement officials have traditionally opposed such measures, citing belief that records are vital to public safety and support for crime victims, a growing number have begun to recognize that criminal records can hinder self-sufficiency and help trap people in cycles of crime, the New York Times reports. Increasingly, prosecutors are endorsing mercy through record suppression. Said Terry Curry, the prosecutor in Marion County, In., which includes Indianapolis, “If an individual has stayed out of the criminal justice system, then why should they continue to have that stain forever?”
Though the paperwork burden for expungements has fallen mostly on private lawyers and nonprofit legal clinics, South Florida prosecutors hold events intended to help people wipe away records of arrests but not convictions. A district attorney in rural Louisiana leads information sessions about expungements for some felony convictions after a 10-year waiting period; and authorities near Fort Bragg, N.C., attracted about 500 people to an expungement event last year. Last month, the Brooklyn district attorney promoted “Begin Again” events, where people were invited to “clear your record of a misdemeanor marijuana conviction or warrant.” Some places have made expungement deliberately simple, while others have complicated approaches that may require legal aid or court hearings. Margaret Love of the Collateral Consequences Resource Center said clemency and expungements are part of the criminal justice process for a reason. “It ought to be something that prosecutors welcome and use to their advantage to create criminal justice success stories, to advertise criminal justice success stories,” she said.