Clean Slate Laws

There is a popular movement nationwide to enact ‘Clean Slate Laws.’ These laws essentially reduce the availability of background criminal information to reduce housing and employment discrimination. With almost one in three U.S. citizens having a criminal history, these laws profoundly affect many individuals.

What are Clean Slate Laws?

Clean slate laws started in 2014 when the Community Legal Services in Philadelphia made software available that automated the expungement petition process to speed it up. After massive success, the organization automated the entire record-clearing process.

Several years later, in 2018, Pennsylvania passed the first clean slate law, which allowed the records of individuals who had committed eligible offenses to be automatically sealed if they had gone ten years without an additional conviction. This automatic process was a huge change from the prior process, which required the individual to petition the court to seal a criminal conviction record. 

Generally speaking, clean slate laws receive broad bipartisan support. However, public sentiment isn’t always on par with political support, with many people fearing that reducing public access to criminal records may negatively impact the ability to keep communities safe.

Currently, clean slate laws vary from one state to another, with different types of records eligible for automatic sealing or record clearance. Some states may restrict this to only misdemeanors, while others allow certain felonies to be cleared. Some seal the records, while others initiate expungement. A sealed record still exists and is not viewable to the public, although a court may open it, while an expunged record is erased from one’s file as though it never happened. Additionally, the waiting periods and restitution requirements also generally vary by state.

Currently, twelve states meet the criteria for having Clean Slate legislation, as defined by The Clean Slate Initiative, a federal coalition tracking clean slate laws at the state and federal levels. These states are:

  • Pennsylvania
  • Utah
  • New Jersey
  • Michigan
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Virginia
  • Oklahoma
  • Colorado
  • California
  • Minnesota
  • New York

Clean slate laws are similar to ‘ban the box’ laws that many states and cities have recently implemented, although they go beyond banning the box. Whereas ‘ban the box’ requires that employers leave off any questions about previous criminal history on a job application, they can inquire about it later in the hiring process. Clean slates laws, on the other hand, ensure that an employer won’t see a candidate’s criminal history because it won’t show up during a background search if they have a conviction that is eligible under the law.

Why Are Clean Slate Laws Becoming More Popular?

Clean slate laws impact the background screening results. They essentially provide people with a criminal history – especially one that is minor – a second chance. While seeking expungement or a criminal record has always been an option, many people fail to realize their record is eligible for expungement. They may also lack the time, resources, or knowledge to pursue expungement, as it has traditionally had to go through the courts.

Clean slate laws work to overcome these boundaries and allow individuals to have a clean record without having to expend any effort or resources. Proponents of clean slate laws cite the following benefits:

  • They can give job candidates a fair chance at obtaining a job, earning wages, and becoming a productive member of society, which can reduce recidivism rates.
  • They expand the labor pool by making those with a criminal record viable job candidates.
  • They support the principles of diversity, inclusion, and equity. Minority groups are often disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system. Therefore, these laws can help support inclusive hiring.
  • They can help the economy grow.

Many supporters also recognize that the economic recovery from COVID is still present, and this pandemic permanently displaced many people in the job market. Tons of workers exited the workplace with no intention of returning, which has led to a highly competitive job market in many parts of the country. Clean slate laws can help companies attract skilled workers by reducing the barriers to employment.

Ultimately, clean slate laws help the one-third of Americans with a criminal record to access better job prospects and housing, which may not be available to them if employers and housing providers can see their criminal history.

While clean slate laws can greatly impact the job market, it’s important to remember that hiring must still follow guidelines issued by the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission. This commission reminds employers that considering criminal records while hiring can result in unintentional discrimination, which is as egregious as intentional discrimination. Individualized assessments help the employer understand context, which can help them make better hiring decisions.

Clean slate laws add another layer to the myriad of laws and regulations that can impact the hiring process. Violating these laws or regulations can result in serious fines, penalties, and consequences for employers. To learn more about clean slate laws and conducting lawful background checks, contact USA Fact today!

USAFact Global Screening Services provides comprehensive background and criminal checks for employers that comply with federal and local laws. By helping you eliminate high-risk applicants through tailored solutions, USAFact enables you to create a safe and productive work environment and a foundation for future success.