Jun 29, 2016

"Getting Snatched Back": The Fight for Expungement Laws in NY


Sponsored by Assemblywoman Annette Robinson, and hosted by the Community Service Society, a Reentry Roundtable on June 22, 2016 focused on the expungement of criminal records in New York State. The rich discussion at this roundtable emphasized the urgency of creating laws that allow formerly incarcerated people in New York State a second chance at a full life.
The conference kicked off with a welcoming speech by Assemblywoman Robinson who emphasized the importance of expungement.  According to the Community Service Society, expungement is a “legal process that removes all records about one’s criminal changes from both public records, and from law enforcement agency records” as well. In New York City, there is no expungement, so once a person has a criminal conviction in New York there will always be a record of it no matter how long ago the conviction occured. In 2015 a bill for the expungement of records passed through the majority liberal New York State Assembly, but was not passed through the New York State Senate, with a more conservative majority. Expungement laws, however, have been passed in Massachusetts, California, Rhode Island, and Washington. For instance, in Massachusetts, under the new law known as “CORI Reform” misdemeanors, felonies, and certain sex offenses can be sealed after a period of time of law abiding conduct. As a result, his or her past criminal record does not have to be reported in job interviews.
  In New York, there have been some attempts at creating opportunities for those with criminal records. For example, the New York City Fair Act, that states that employers must delay questions about one’s criminal record until after a job offer is made. The Community Service Society explained that “in the end employers, colleges, licensing agencies and landlords all make adverse decisions against people with backgrounds based on stereotypes, media hype, and simple prejudice”.
CEO of Community Service Society, David Jones, stressed that the fight for expungement, is “our duty.” He claimed that “1 and 3 men” in New York have a criminal record, and as a consequence, many of their rights are denied for much of their lives. This mark, which follows them for their lifetime, inhibits their ability to work, stay out of jail and prison, and participate as fathers, sons, and community members.
 Afie Turner, Employment Specialist at STRIVE, shared her story about the struggles she faces having a criminal record for a crime that she committed over 30 years ago. She commented  that she is a different woman than the 17-year old who committed the crime. She now is completing a degree in college and is employed. But despite this change in character, she is still barred from some opportunities because of her past record. For instance, realizing that she is unable to have children of her own, she faces the difficult reality that her criminal record prevents her from adopting a child and starting a family. She says that she feels like a dog on a leash, that constantly gets “snatched back” by New York State for her past, and stresses the need for a second chance for people just like her.
Similarly, Barry Campbell, Special Assistant to the President of Fortune Society, claims a criminal records “destroys a person’s livelihood”, and says that laws that prevent the sealing of a criminal record, overlook the “humanity [and] the human consequences of the persons” they affect. “Marches are not enough, you have to go up to elected officials” and stand up against these injustices, Campbell claims.
The powerful discussion raised my awareness about expungement laws in New York. The denial of the opportunity to expunge certain records holds a large number of individuals back from the rights of citizenship.  Now is the time for change, and as suggested by the workshop, it is up to us to be the advocates for it. 


By Tylor-Maria Johnson Harlem Community Justice Center Summer Intern/Princeton University Student