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VIEWPOINT: Delaware can increase opportunity with Clean Slate Act

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By State Sen. Darius Brown and Tom Horne

Imagine if your whole life was defined by your worst mistake – a lapse in judgement that prevented you from providing for your family.

The chance to get a job, find a place to live or access capital to start a small business can be slim to impossible for the one in three Americans who have some type of criminal record.

Nationally, nearly nine out of 10 employers, four in five landlords, and three in five colleges use a past conviction to screen applicants for jobs, housing, or access to higher education. This means that even after fulfilling their justice system obligations, people with criminal backgrounds are often blocked from fully participating in the economy and their community. Without a steady paycheck, a place to live or a degree, even a minor infraction can turn into a life sentence.

Together, we can change this. With the roll-out of vaccines and a nascent recovery underway, the unemployment rate in our state has started to come down. Businesses are adapting to economic conditions and resuming their search for skilled workers, but we must ensure that the recovery is inclusive. That means getting people impacted by the pandemic back to work as well as creating opportunities for people who have been shut out of our economy for too long.

Roughly 80,000 Delawareans who have a criminal record for even low-level crimes are facing barriers to employment that could prevent them from benefitting from the opportunities that will be created as the economy recovers.

Policymakers, business and community leaders must come together to achieve common sense solutions that can make a real difference for people who need to move beyond their records.

Tom Horne

JPMorgan Chase is committed to giving people across the country a second chance by broadening its candidate pool, including people with criminal backgrounds, advancing policies that remove barriers to employment and supporting community organizations providing critical assistance. In 2020, JPMorgan Chase hired more than 2,100 people with criminal backgrounds – about 10% of its new hires in the U.S. – whose history had no bearing on the requirements of the job they were seeking. And with a workforce of almost 11,000 in Delaware, the firm is always in need of top local talent to fill open positions. 

But the private sector can’t address this alone. Lawmakers play a critical role. In recent years, Delaware lawmakers have enacted important criminal justice reforms, particularly the Adult Expungement Act. This legislation makes certain low-level offenses, such as disorderly conduct or personal drug possession, eligible for expungement once a petition has been filed with the State Bureau of Identification, while others are left to the discretion of judges with input from both prosecutors and victims. This process is time-consuming, adds to the workload of our overburdened courts, and can be costly for individuals. As a result, few people seek the relief they are eligible to obtain.

Now we must do more.

State Sen. Darius Brown

The newly introduced Clean Slate Act would streamline the record-clearing process by automating expungement for eligible low-level crimes. If passed, this legislation would help ensure that tens of thousands of Delawareans who have turned their lives around but lack the money, time, or know-how to navigate the expungement process will not be denied a second chance.

Once implemented, Clean Slate will help bolster the state’s economy by fully tapping the talents of thousands of people who are currently unemployed or underemployed because of their criminal record. In 2020, researchers from the University of Michigan Law School’s Scholarship Repository, found that for people who received expungements in that state, their wages increased more than 20% in the following year and they were more likely to remain crime-free than the average resident.

At a national level, excluding individuals with criminal backgrounds from the job market is estimated to cost $78 billion to $89 billion annually in lost gross domestic product, according to the Brennan Center for Justice’s 2020 “Conviction, Imprisonment and Lost Earnings” report. A recent study found that communities annually forgo $5,760 per person in lost earnings and tax revenue when criminal records block individuals from employment.

The benefits of Clean Slate are clear: lower crime rates, stronger families, taxpayer money saved as a result of reduced incarceration and less bureaucratic processes, a stronger economy that allows more qualified jobseekers to participate and fewer people living in poverty.  With bipartisan support and broad backing from the business community, Clean Slate bills are being considered widely and have already become law in Pennsylvania, Utah, Michigan, and most recently in Virginia. 

It is common sense for Delawareans who have already paid their debt to society and rehabilitated their lives to be afforded a second chance. That’s why we’re urging support for the Clean Slate Act now before the Delaware General Assembly.

Our state is depending on it.

State Sen. Darius Brown is the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and Tom Horne is the Delaware market leader for JPMorgan Chase.

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