- On May 31, Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed the Clean Slate Act into law, making Colorado the seventh state to have one. “Clean slate” laws "create an automatic sealing process for old criminal records if a person remains crime-free for a set period of time," Abby Diebold of the Responsible Business Initiative for Justice (RBIJ) told HR Dive in an email. Pennsylvania, Utah, Michigan, Connecticut, Delaware and Oklahoma have similar laws.
- Colorado's Clean Slate Act, SB22-099, allows for arrest records that don't result in a conviction to be automatically sealed. Other criminal records that can be automatically sealed include civil infractions with four years since the final disposition, petty offense or misdemeanor records with seven years since the final disposition, and felonies with 10 years since the final disposition or release from jail, whichever comes later, Diebold explained. Crimes involving violence, such as murder, assault, sexual assault and robbery, which fall under the Crime Victims Rights Act, are not eligible. Colorado law also prevents record-sealing if the defendant still owes restitution, fines or court fees in the case.
- With some exceptions, SB22-099 requires consumer reporting agencies, which employers typically use for background checks, to exclude sealed and expunged records from their reports. By making the process automatic, the law removes barriers, such as having to file a court petition, pay a fee, attend hearings and often secure legal representation, that commonly deter otherwise eligible individuals from getting their criminal records sealed. Automatic sealing of qualifying records under SB22-099 begins in 2024.
Clean slate laws are getting broad bipartisan political, business and community support. For example, Clean Slate Colorado, which advocated for the law's passage, is a diverse coalition of business and community organizations. Its members include JPMorgan Chase & Co., Home Depot, Goodwill, the Colorado Retail Council, the ACLU of Colorado and the American Conservative Union. The Clean Slate Initiative, a national advocacy coalition, includes the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative among its funders. The RBIJ works with businesses to champion criminal justice reform measures. Its advisory council includes representatives from global marketing firm R/GA, Lush Cosmetics and the American Chamber of Commerce.
It's clear why the support is strong, Diebold said. "Businesses are confronting an unprecedented hiring shortage. At the same time, more than 70 million Americans — about one-third of the total adult population — face unnecessary barriers to entering the workforce because of old criminal records," she explained. Clean slate laws remove these obstacles and "allow employers to tap into a vast, diverse and underutilized talent pool."
“Ban-the-box” laws prohibit employers from asking about or considering a prospective employer's criminal record prior to making a conditional job offer. "However, if the background check eventually turns up a past conviction —even from decades ago — that offer could be rescinded," Diebold explained. Under Clean Slate laws, eligible records are sealed, so unless the person is applying for a job in certain fields (such as law enforcement, the courts, banks and industries that use FBI background checks), an employer won't have access to these records at all, she said. Individuals with old criminal records are given "real, meaningful second chances."
For employers wary of second-chance hiring, knowing the facts can ease their concerns. For example, formerly incarcerated persons bring unique skill sets to prison and often continue their education while being held, a panelist explained during an April video event hosted by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs. Many formerly incarcerated persons have experience with problem solving and entrepreneurial thinking, which are skills that can help employers grow their business, the panelist said.
In addition, research shows that second-chance employees are engaged, loyal and productive, Diebold pointed out. Also, 85% of HR professionals and 81% of business leaders say that individuals with criminal records perform the same as or better than employees without criminal records, she added. Other data indicates that second-chance hires have a lower turnover rate than other employees, saving companies and their HR departments valuable time and money, Diebold said.
Clean slate legislation can also benefit the economy and community safety in significant ways. The U.S. loses up to $87 million in GDP each year due to the underemployment of people with criminal records, Diebold explained. "By getting deserving and hardworking individuals into jobs, clean slate [legislation] provides a boost to the economy and lowers the burden on taxpayers," she said.
The laws are also associated with a major reduction in offending rates and boosted earning potential, Diebold added. One study found that five years after having a record sealed, individuals who benefited from expungement are less likely to commit an offense than the general public. The study also found that individual wages increased an average of 25% within two years of having criminal records automatically sealed.
Automatic sealing also speaks to inclusion issues: The wage increase is even higher for people of color, who are both overrepresented in the justice system and less likely to be hired with a criminal record than their White peers, Diebold noted.