About two million people convicted of crimes in New York could be eligible to have their records sealed under a sweeping criminal justice initiative that was signed into law Thursday by Gov. Kathy Hochul.
Under the so-called Clean Slate Act, people who serve their sentences and stay out of trouble for a set period of time — three years for misdemeanors, eight for qualifying felonies — will have their sentences sealed. The most serious crimes, including sex crimes, murder, and most other Class A misdemeanors, will not be eligible for automatic sealing.
New York is now part of a a dozen states who have passed such laws, which aim to interrupt the cycle of recidivism by providing formerly incarcerated people with access to employment and housing.
The law will take effect in a year, but it will take another three years to clear the records of those currently waiting.
Hochul said she was proud to sign the bill, which she said would provide economic opportunity while protecting public safety.
“The best tool to fight crime is a well-paying job,” she said.
Signing the bill is a victory for criminal justice advocates who have spent years lobbying stakeholders for the measure. By the time it passed the Democratic-dominated New York Legislature earlier this year, it had an impressive coalition of businesses, unions, governments and advocacy groups preaching its economic benefits , morals and public safety.
Indeed, one of the biggest apparent obstacles was Ms. Hochul herself, who during her two years in office split from progressives on some criminal justice measures, citing public safety concerns.
Although Hochul supported the overall concept of the initiative and included a scaled-down version in her legislative agenda last year, she expressed concerns about the scope of the original bill.
Ultimately, the governor was able to secure concessions from his sponsors before passage, including an extended waiting period and liability protections for companies that hire people with criminal records. Records will remain visible to law enforcement and court personnel, as well as certain sensitive employers.
Unlike previous versions of the bill, the final version makes all Class A felonies, except those related to drug possession, ineligible for sealing.
The concessions helped appease opposition, including from law enforcement groups. Although major associations of sheriffs, police officers and prosecutors did not support the measure, they refrained from publicly criticizing it.
An analysis by the Division of Criminal Justice Services showed that about 1 million felonies and up to 4 million misdemeanor convictions would be eligible for sealing.
Employers may be hesitant to hire someone with a criminal record – a bias the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said depresses the economy, amounting to $78 billion to $87 billion in gross domestic product loss.
The impact on people and their families is more direct: New Yorkers living with criminal records lose about $2.4 billion in wages per year, according to a report from New York City Comptroller Brad Lander. Nearly 80 percent of them are non-white.
Ismael Cruz served nine and a half years in prison after pleading guilty to manslaughter. After his release, he said he had trouble finding a job — once losing a job he had already gotten due to a late background check.
Today, he works as a community organizer for the Center for Community Alternatives, a group that advocates for criminal justice reform, including Clean Slate. Mr. Cruz said he was “delighted” with the passage of the law, which he said would ease the burden on him and others.
He knows the law will take several years to take effect, but he hopes its passage could encourage employers to start hiring now, regardless of their background.
“I hope when the law gets signed, people say, ‘You know what, let’s change it now,’” he said. “Because if we wait three years, that’s another three years since we can’t find a job.”
Jamie Dimon, chief executive of JP Morgan Chase, said he was “thrilled” that Ms. Hochul would sign the bill, citing not only the many jobs open in New York, but also the positive impact those jobs would have on people who will occupy them.
“Jobs bring dignity, jobs build a household, jobs reduce crime,” Mr. Dimon, one of the nation’s strongest supporters of second chance legislation, said. stated in an interview. “Jobs elevate people. »
Many Republicans still oppose the legislation, saying it could seal documents they say should remain public. They point to the existing process of sealing records, in which a judge approves each request.
Senate Minority Leader Robert Ortt, who represents the Niagara Falls region, said he was disappointed with Ms. Hochul’s decision and skeptical of the law’s projected economic benefits.
“I don’t think this is going to solve the employee shortage that our employers are seeing here,” he said.
“We continue to pass laws like this that are really aimed at those who have broken the law, at the criminal class, and not at those who could be victims,” he lamented.