VIRTUAL CONGRESSIONAL BRIEFING
Undoing Racism: Eliminating Debilitating Criminal Penalties
Wednesday, December 2, 2020 3:00 – 4:30 p.m. EST
After decades of mass incarceration, it is estimated somewhere between 19 and 24 million Americans have felony convictions. Many of these convictions were for nonviolent offenses. However, their penalties do not end with the completion of prison time or probation; felony convictions become lifetime burdens for all but a few who have their records expunged or sealed from public view. A felony record results in substantial barriers to employment, housing, education, and social integration. Because blacks are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system, they have been hurt the most. Expungement would be a small but significant step in undoing systemic racism.
The study by J. J. Prescott and Sonja Starr on expungement in Michigan found that within one year of expungement, an individual’s odds of being employed and earning $100 per week increase by a factor of 1.13 and 1.23 respectively. Individuals who receive expungement see a wage increase of $4,400 within one year, a 23 percent improvement over individuals whose records are not expunged. The study also found recipients of expungements have a relatively low recidivism rate, with 1.8 percent re-convicted of crimes within two years and 4.2 percent committing crimes within 5 years. The data do not establish a causal link between expungement and reduced recidivism rates but do not rule out its impact on recidivism.
Many states and the District of Columbia have enacted expungement laws within the past several years. The federal prison system has jurisdiction over far fewer inmates than states; it was responsible for 12 percent of sentenced prisoners or approximately 163,653 in 2018. About 45 percent or 73,643 federal inmates committed nonviolent offenses—drug, property crimes, or civil disorder. H.R. 2410—The REDEEM Act would go a long way in giving these and others the opportunity to have their full rights as American citizens restored.
J.J. Prescott and Sonja B. Starr. (2020). Expungement of Criminal Convictions: An Empirical Study. Harvard Law Review, 133(8).
CARRIE PETTUS DAVIS
Associate Professor Institute for Justice Research and Development, a premier trans-sector research center focused on criminal justice system innovations at Florida State University.
CEDRIC R. HENDRICKS
Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA) where he leads the agency’s Office of Legislative, Intergovernmental and Public Affairs. Adjunct Professor at UDC.
CHARLES E. LEWIS, JR.
Founder and Director of the Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy (CRISP), a nonprofit organization that works to engage social workers with Congress.
National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform (NICJR), which provides technical assistance and consulting, and research in the fields of juvenile and criminal justice.
Collateral Consequences Resource Center (CCRC), which includes the Restoration of Rights Project, a state-by-state survey of restoration of rights mechanisms.