Home News ‘Clean Slate’ Justice Laws Offer a Second Chance—Only to Some

‘Clean Slate’ Justice Laws Offer a Second Chance—Only to Some


clean law is sweeping the country, offering many of the estimated 7 to 100 million people with criminal records the opportunity to have their records cleared. The benefits seem simple: No more open criminal records should reduce housing and employment discrimination. The policy is designed to give people a second chance, especially those who were unfairly attacked in the first place. Deletion is largely seen as a way to address errors in the legal system rooted in racial caste and discrimination.

Key to this new wave of legislation is an effort to automate removal by shifting the burden to the state rather than the person of record, and to use technology to automate the process as much as possible. The policies are a welcome relief from onerous takedown procedures, such as inefficient, confusing and expensive court petitions that cause most people to drop out of takedowns or not try at all, creating a “second chance gap.” For example, a Michigan study found that only 6.5 percent of those eligible for deletion successfully completed the process. By automating and automating the process, many hope that deletion will benefit more people, especially those who can’t afford to hire a lawyer, or who, understandably, don’t want to re-engage with the court system even for record-sealing purposes. More than a dozen states have implemented automatic records purging, including eight states authorizing automatic relief for marijuana-related convictions.

Unfortunately, many states lack the data infrastructure needed to effectively seal criminal records. The massive backlog in California has left tens of thousands of people legally eligible for permission to record still waiting. A new study from California (whose innocence law AB 1076 automates removal procedures for people arrested after January 2021) suggests that these promising new laws could have unintended consequences: Increase Racial inequality because of how narrowly they are written. People with more serious records or repeated contact with the criminal legal system are generally excluded from whitelisting policies. But the question of who has a more serious criminal record depends largely on the race, community and income of those arrested and charged.

clean law It has broad bipartisan support. But making the law politically agreeable to both sides of the aisle can lead to narrow policy. While advocates point to the common-sense benefits of deleting criminal records, public perceptions of deletion are mixed: A recent poll found that nearly 55% of respondents oppose criminal record deletion, citing giving the public access to crime Records “keep the community alive” safe. But the same study showed that less than 15% of respondents believe a person should never be removed, support for record-clearing policies for property and substance-related crimes is on the rise, and a person remains crime-free for 7 to 10 years. Dominant political frameworks and public opinion encourage removal policies only for low-level, nonviolent offenses and those who have been shown to remain crime-free.

The violent/nonviolent crime dichotomy is a bit more complicated: Many states consider a wide variety of crimes to be violent, including things that most people consider nonviolent, such as burglary, drug crimes, and embezzlement. And “criminal free” is a more nuanced concept than we usually think. For the purposes of the records removal policy, criminal conduct is usually measured by new arrests or criminal charges and convictions. But living in overly vigilant neighborhoods can increase the likelihood of being pulled over by police.

New research from California surveyed more than 2 million Californians who have been arrested at least once. Blacks are more likely than other racial groups to be convicted of a criminal offense (87.3% vs. 79.4% of total) and, among those convicted, more likely to have a felony record (73.3% vs. 58.1% of total) . 40% of blacks are barred from deportation because of the type of crime, compared to 26% to 31% for other racial groups. This means that a disproportionate number of blacks have felony convictions, making them ineligible for deportation. Even among people with felony records in other racial groups, blacks are less likely to have a qualifying conviction and are more likely to be jailed for a conviction, making more people ineligible for permission to record.

“Our study shows,” study authors Alyssa Mooney, Alissa Skog and Amy Lerman told me in an email exchange, “that automated records erasure alone is not sufficient to reduce racial disparities in people with criminal records.  …true What is needed to reduce racial disparities in criminal records is a policy change that expands record purging eligibility to a wider range of cases. It’s not a technical issue; it’s a political issue.”

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