by Ed Lyon
For many people, the negative effects of being in jail or prison follow them throughout their lives after they re-enter society. Probably one of the most pervasive of these effects is obtaining employment they are qualified for in all aspects, save for their carceral histories.
For years, there has been a “Ban the Box” campaign asking employers to remove the question of criminal history from job applications.
Since 2017, around 20 states have enacted laws to expunge, broaden existing expungement laws already in existence, and seal past criminal records.
One young woman, F., who requested her name be withheld, was only 19 when she was convicted of resisting law enforcement. Before she became eligible for expungement, she was refused three jobs at fast-food restaurants based solely on her prior instance of adolescent misbehavior.
Surprisingly, growing numbers of prosecutors have begun to support the record sealing and expungement laws. Shockingly, Vice President Mike Pence signed Indiana’s record sealing law in 2013 as then Indiana’s governor. He stated: “Indiana should be the worst place in America to commit a serious crime and the best place once you’ve done your time, to get a second chance.” Marion County, Indiana’s prosecutor Terry Curry agreed. “If an individual has stayed out of the criminal justice system, then why should they continue to have that stain forever? It is just a matter of trying to remove obstacles that would make it more difficult for someone to become a productive member of the community,” Curry stated.
This represents a 180-degree position reversal for most law enforcement personnel who feel such a movement infringes on victims’ rights and offender accountability. They are now realizing that former prisoners unable to obtain employment because of prior bad choices are given little choice but to continue a lawless lifestyle, perpetuating the incarceration cycle.
Brooklyn, New York; Fort Bragg, North Carolina; Vermont; Louisiana; and South Florida prosecutors are following Indiana’s lead in the Second Chance Law movement. They have been holding clinics and actively helping former prisoners to clear, expunge, and/or seal their prior criminal records.
There are, of course, holdouts—mainly in backwoods rural areas. Bernice Corley, the executive director of the Indiana Public Defender Council, characterized this resistance as “prosecutors and judges who just think it’s wrong: ‘You’ve caused trouble in this county, you’re a wrongdoer and you shouldn’t get a blank slate.’” In fact, some of the judges that Corley refers to hold hearings concerning expungement applications in order to opine against those laws rather than to hear and rule on the merits of an expungement application before their bench.
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