Federal Clean Slate Legislation Introduced, and the news in criminal justice this week

“We want to allow people a clean slate and to move forward with their lives after they’ve done what they were supposed to do.”

Representatives Rod Blum (R-IA) and Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE) introduced the “Clean Slate Act,” which would allow people convicted of low-level drug offenses to have their records automatically sealed, and allow people convicted of other nonviolent offenses to petition to have their records sealed. The bill is modeled after Pennsylvania’s landmark Clean Slate legislation, passed earlier this year, and backed by the Center for American Progress and FreedomWorks.

“The results of the poll really show this is not a red state issue or a blue state issue, this is a real issue that Americans want to see advanced and they want to see politicians in Washington make progress.”

New polling from the Justice Action Network showed widespread support among Kentuckians for the prison reforms in the FIRST STEP Act and the proposed sentencing reforms that may be added. On a call unveiling the poll results, White House Senior Advisor Jared Kushner said the bill will “keep our communities safer, which is a big priority of the president.” Senator Rand Paul pushed for a vote on the bill, predicting that more than 2/3 of the Senate would support the prison and sentencing reforms. 74% of those polled approved of a safety valve to allow judges to divert from mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines, and 70% believed Senator McConnell should allow the prison and sentencing reform bill to get a vote in the Senate.

“Our path to a more just criminal justice system is not complete, but today it made a transformational shift away from valuing private wealth and toward protecting public safety.”

This week, California became the first state to eliminate cash bail, as Governor Brown signed legislation that goes into effect in October 2019.  The state’s cash bail system was declared unconstitutional by an appellate court earlier this year. In lieu of posting bail, people will receive a risk assessment that factors in the seriousness of their accused crime, how likely they are to show up for their court dates, and the likelihood of reoffending. Most people accused of nonviolent misdemeanors will be released within 12 hours.

“No single approach is going to work for every jurisdiction or jail, but jurisdictions can take advantage of the experiences of other states to craft an approach suited to their local conditions.”

A new report from the Criminal Justice Reform Clinic at UCLA Law School, “Getting to Zero,” looks at the progress made in reducing the numbers of juveniles housed in adult jails, and strategies to further reduce that number. Twenty states have passed laws since 2009 to limit juveniles in adult jails, but there are still at least 32,000 youth entering adult jails each year. Adult jails have struggled to provide appropriate health and mental health treatment for juveniles, and youth in adult jails are 36 times more likely to commit suicide than youth in juvenile detention. The report makes several recommendations to remove youth from adult jails, including raising the age of juvenile court jurisdiction, and modifying state transfer laws to minimize youth tried as adults.

“But at what point is it necessary to keep an ex-offender on a list? This guy for the last 12 years has lived an ideal life, but his name continues to be on a list that serves no purpose for society.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Bill Torpy profiled Benjamin Paul, whose job offer from Georgia Tech was rescinded after a background check turned up Paul’s criminal record from when he was 17 and 18 years old. In the intervening 12 years, Paul earned his GED, as well as an associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degree, became an ordained minister, and worked as a career adviser at Miami-Dade College. Torpy interviewed Clayton County Juvenile Court Judge Steven Teske, who said records like Paul’s “create a very heavy yoke around ex-offenders” and encouraged lawmakers to follow their faith: “[they] go to church and read the scripture that says, ‘Forgive seven times 70 times.’ But they don’t live it.”