HUDSON—Columbia County issued a proclamation on November 1 stating that “members of the County Public Safety Committee by consensus… call on the New York State Legislature to pass the pending Clean Slate Act and the governor to subsequently sign it.”
The Clean Slate Act would seal the criminal records of people with convictions three years after completing incarceration for a misdemeanor and seven years after completing incarceration for a felony, provided they have also completed probation and parole and have no subsequent convictions or pending charges.
Many employers are reluctant to hire someone with a criminal record, and many landlords are reluctant to rent to them. It can also be harder for someone with a criminal record to get scholarships and licenses. With a person’s criminal records sealed, employers, housing agents, schools and license issuers will Not be able to see them when researching that person. Law enforcement and courts could still see them.
State Senator Zellnor Myrie and State Assemblymember Catalina Cruz have introduced the Clean Slate Act in the state legislature. The State Senate has passed it, Politico reports, and the act’s supporters “are gearing up to fight for it in 2023.”
At the Public Safety Committee meeting October 19, Supervisor Claire Cousin, Hudson, 1st Ward, introduced the proposal. “People who made a mistake and did time still find barriers,” she said. “Clean Slate is an economic justice bill, not a public safety bill. When the bill passes, we start educating people, including employers.”
Ms. Cousin is executive director of the Hudson Catskill Housing Coalition, which she described as being at the intersection of housing and criminal justice. She is also vice chair of the Hudson Housing Authority Board of Commissioners.
“If a person stays in the community five years clean, there is little chance of recidivism,” said Lukee Forbes, civil rights coordinator of the Clean Slate Coalition.
“Think of seven years of your life, you can grow,” Ms. Cousin said.
“Expungements have been shown to lower crime rates,” Mr. Forbes continued. With access to housing, education and jobs, there is less recidivism. “This is supported by evidence. We need second chances and access to resources. End discrimination against people who made mistakes. Some people have been wrongfully convicted or pleaded guilty to charges way beyond what they did.
‘Do I want someone with financial crimes working at a bank? No.’
Undersheriff Jackie Salvatore
“People will make a mistake in their life,” said Supervisor Michael Chameides, Hudson, 3rd Ward. “They need a chance to reintegrate into society.”
One question that came up at the meeting is how people whose records are sealed should answer questions on job applications of whether they have ever been convicted of a crime and not be rejected by an employer for lying.
The Hudson Valley communities of Beacon and Poughkeepsie have issued proclamations supporting the Clean Slate Act, Mr. Forbes noted.
Supervisor Robert Lagonia (Austerlitz) said the consensus of the committee is to submit a proclamation. “My concern is the ‘automatic-ness’ of it,” he said. But he and Ms. Cousin had already had a “good discussion” about it.
County Undersheriff Jackie Salvatore said she saw this from both sides. She is in law enforcement but has “a family member who once went to prison for armed robbery.” She said he did his time and now has been sober for 27 years. “I would trust my children, my money and my pets with him.” But he still cannot live in federally subsidized housing. He cannot hunt, because he cannot possess a gun.
“Do I want someone with financial crimes working at a bank? No,” said Undersheriff Salvatore. But she knows someone who, because of a criminal record, could not get a job at Burger King. “If you can’t get a job, how can you do it?”
Ms. Cousin said that some other states have Clean Slate laws that are “even more progressive” than the one proposed for New York. The November 1 Proclamation says that “numerous other states,” including Pennsylvania, Michigan, Utah, and Connecticut, have already passed Clean Slate laws.
“People with criminal records face thousands of civil barriers to employment, licensing, housing and educational opportunities long after they have completed their sentences,” the Proclamation says. These exclude them from society “through a system of perpetual punishment… The Clean Slate Act would remove [these] systemic barriers… and allow millions of New Yorkers to participate fully in civic life and in their communities.”
“Convictions for even low-level offenses result in cyclical harm and structural instability for individuals, families and communities,” the proclamation says. “Excluding individuals with criminal records… creates inter-generational trauma and exacerbates racial and economic inequality.… Giving people access to jobs, housing, education and licenses to practice a trade increases their participation in the economy and reduces the likelihood they will return to prison, thereby making our communities safer.”
At the full County Board of Supervisors meeting November 9, Ms. Cousin read the proclamation and thanked her fellow supervisors for their support and willingness to discuss the issue.