The Clean Slate Act is not so much about numbers. It’s the story of an estimated 8.7 million previously convicted people, mostly black and brown New Yorkers, whose lives have been derailed and dreams delayed, trying to get back on track.
An estimated 8.7 million New Yorkers have criminal records, according to a recent analysis by NYU Law’s Brennan Center for Justice. A large group of lawyers and elected officials who have led a crusade for legislation that would automatically seal old conviction records gathered at City Hall and across the state on December 1 to again demand that Clean Slate be passed in the next state legislative session in January.
Currently, many people with old beliefs face barriers to employment, housing and education.
Yakik Runley, 47, has a non-violent criminal record for credit card possession, fraud and forgery. Before going to prison, he had a teaching license, which was suspended for two years. He has been out of prison for nearly 10 years and continues to be denied teaching positions by the Personnel Investigations Bureau.
“Despite three respite certificates and numerous job offers to teach full-time, I continue to be denied permission,” Runley said. “All I’m looking for is a full-time job. This clean slate must pass, not only for me but for others like me who continue to fight against injustice.
Runley had over 30 offers. He currently works several part-time jobs, including training and after-school programs to support his family. He said he made about $38,000 a year and was lucky to have at least affordable housing in Manhattan.
Bill aims to boost state’s economic growth by $7.1 billion a year, increase state’s workforce, help businesses hire more black and Latinx employees , increase public safety and address long-standing racial inequalities in our criminal justice system. A person’s criminal record would be automatically sealed after three years for misdemeanors and seven years for felonies once someone has successfully completed their sentence, is not under community supervision and has not faced any new charges. or condemnation.
“It’s a matter of economic justice. It’s a workforce development issue. It’s about economic development,” said Randy Peers, president and CEO of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. “I can attest, because we’re in every community in Brooklyn day in and day out, that it’s a soft job market. This means that our small businesses cannot find enough employees to recover from COVID. So why would we put additional barriers in front of access to employment and employment?
The bill is sponsored by Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz and supported by officials such as Assemblywoman Latrice Walker, Assemblyman Al Taylor, Assemblyman Robert Carroll, Senator Cordell Cleare and Senator Andrew Gounardes. There is also a large support group among unions for the bill, including 1199 SEIU, DC37, Mason Tenders District Council, Laborers Local 79 and RWDSU Local 338.
“We will use this bill to change the lives of people who deserve it. Among the children whose parents have to struggle every day, and these people have had to struggle twice or three times harder during the pandemic because a lot of people have lost their jobs, imagine the excuses they used to let go of people with a criminal record or even not giving them a job,” Cruz said.
Cleare said too often the scales of black and brown communities start out “unbalanced.”
“If you’re concerned about recidivism, let people find jobs,” Cleare said.
Walker said about 25,000 people from the upstate criminal justice system are returning to his district of Brownsville, Brooklyn. She likened Clean Slate’s move to an “abolitionist moment” because under the law, slavery is abolished unless there is a criminal sanction.
“So that means any time someone is put through the criminal justice system, they’re a slave,” Walker said. “So ask yourself why they can deny jobs, why can they deny housing, why can they deny opportunities to this particular group of people? The exact same laws that existed to take our humanity away from us, our citizens are the same laws relied upon to do so today.
The Clean Slate bills won bipartisan support and passed in red and blue states including Utah, Connecticut, California and Michigan. Even Texas, Missouri and West Virginia are also actively considering them.
Ariama C. Long is a member of the Report for America body and writes about New York politics for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps him keep writing stories like this; please consider making a tax-deductible donation of any amount today by visiting: https://bit.ly/amnews1