In 2017, New York became one of 42 states that allow individuals to expunge their criminal records—a major step towards fully reintegrating into civilian society.
The change was expected to benefit as many as 600,000 individuals. Yet in the two years since, less than 2,000 New Yorkers have taken advantage of the law.
The reason: under the state’s criminal record-sealing law a person must wait 10 years after being released from custody before filing the petition to have their criminal record sealed.
This is longer than some jail sentences themselves.
A comprehensive study conducted earlier this year found that New York is the toughest state in the union in which to have one’s criminal record expunged. In contrast, just across the Hudson River, in New Jersey, a person can have his/her record expunged in only three years.
While recent headlines have been all about the impact of the state’s recent bail reform, which eliminated cash bail for most non-violent offenses, true criminal justice must also include reasonable expungement laws.
Bail reform impacts the accused. Expungement impacts the convicted. But both unfairly impact the same segment of society, namely the poor and people of color.
According to the NAACP, African Americans are twice as likely to lose a job over the same convictions as whites. Two separate studies supported by the National Institute for Justice (one published in the American Sociological Review, and the other in the American Journal of Sociology) found that 17 percent of white Americans with convictions received callbacks for jobs, compared to 5 percent for African Americans.
Overall, having a criminal record reduced the likelihood of getting a job by two-thirds for African Americans. The same studies also showed that Latinx individuals suffered similar penalties for a criminal record.
In addition to unfairly impacting these ethnic groups, expungement laws penalize the follies of youth. How many of us have made missteps when we were younger? Yet, as we matured and looked back on our actions, we were able to acknowledge that we used poor judgement at the time and are now sincerely remorseful.
By imposing a ten-year waiting period before their records can be sealed, we are imprisoning New Yorkers for a longer period of time.
Ethnic disparities in justice are also evident when we examine marijuana offenses and their impact on criminal records.
Regardless of the crime, a criminal conviction of any kind can close doors on job opportunities. It can also limit housing and educational opportunities. According to research by the Sentencing Project, more than 60 percent of formerly incarcerated individuals are still unemployed one year after release.
Those who do manage to find jobs take home 40 percent less pay on average.
A closer look reveals that individuals whose records were expunged can turn their lives around.
A University of Michigan Law School study found that those who received expungements saw earnings increase by 20 percent.
Expunging records can also lower crime rates. Harvard University research shows that, after age 26, persons convicted of crimes are far less likely to commit another crime if they had at least full-time, minimum wage jobs.
Let’s be sure we help others get a clean start— and sooner.
This can happen by not only shining a light on the benefits of expungement, but by lobbying politicians in New York State to modify the terms.
Adam H. Rosenblum is the founding attorney of Rosenblum Law, a general law practice with offices in New York City, Albany, Buffalo and Bloomfield, N.J. His primary focus is criminal defense, traffic violations and personal injury.