2018 Called ‘High Point’ in Restoring Rights to Individuals with Criminal Records

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Photo by Nicholas Cardot via Flickr

Some 30 states and the District of Columbia passed laws or enacted statutes aimed at helping returning incarcerees adjust to life in civilian society, representing a “high point” in national efforts to restore rights and status to people with a criminal record, according to the Collateral Consequences Resource Center (CCRC).

The most promising legislative development focused on ending restrictions on occupational licensing, said the CCRC, a nonprofit organization established in 2014 to promote public discussion of the collateral consequences of conviction.

“(Occupational licensing) showed the greatest uniformity of approach,”  said study authors Margaret Love and David Schlussel.

Of the 14 states that enacted laws regulating licensing in 2018, nine (added to 4 in 2017) adopted comprehensive frameworks to improve access to occupational licenses for people with a criminal record, limiting the kinds of records that may be considered, establishing clear criteria for administrative decisions, and making agency procedures more transparent and accountable.

During 2018, some 52 separate statutes (some addressing multiple restoration mechanisms),  three executive orders, and one ballot initiative aimed at enhancing the prospects for successful reentry and reintegration were enacted. In comparison, 23 states enacted 42 new restoration laws in 2017.

The CRCC said the “most consequential single new law” was the ballot initiative approved by Florida voters last fall to restore the franchise to 1.5 million people with a felony conviction.

See: Fla Ex-Felons Plan Mass Voter registration

Voting rights were also restored for parolees, by statute in Louisiana and by executive order in New York.

The largest number of new laws (27 statutes in 19 states) expanded access to sealing or expungement, by extending eligibility to additional categories of offenses and persons, by reducing waiting periods, or by simplifying procedures, the CCRC said.

The wide variety of approaches to restoration of rights seems to reflect the challenge of striking the appropriate balance between the public’s interest in having access to criminal records, the state’s public safety concerns, and the need to support individuals in their efforts to reintegrate into society,” the authors said.

“It may also reflect a degree of uncertainty about the efficacy of limiting public access to records as opposed to other more transparent forms of relief that involve limiting their use, in the workplace and elsewhere.”

Additional Reading: Ban the Box in Colleges, Too

The full CRCC report is available here.

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