Criminal justice reform advocates are urging people who have prior convictions to lobby lawmakers over the Clean Slate bill. The measure -- currently awaiting action in the state senate -- would erase the record of people with misdemeanors after a set period of time. It would also allow a path towards expungement for certain felonies.
CONECT, the faith-based group that is backing the legislation, says 60 percent of those formerly incarcerated are unemployed a year after their release, and often find it difficult to get housing.
Lonnie Spalding was convicted of drug and robbery offenses when he was a teenager. He could not find work when he was released from prison, and had to start his own business to support himself.
“I think that a person who makes a mistake and paid his debt to society, shouldn’t be shunned for ever," he told a news conference Wednesday. "Their records shouldn’t keep them from finding employment, housing, or getting loans or Pell grants to go back to school. I believe in redemption -- I believe in clean slate.”
Phil Kent from CONECT said that disparities due to a criminal record can linger for a lifetime. “If you do find work, you typically earn less, and you remain underemployed, underhoused and undereducated for life,” he said.
And he pointed out that it's not a burden that's borne equally across society. “Black and brown people are nine and four times respectively more likely than whites to be jailed in Connecticut," said Kent. "So for people of color and their families, they are far more likely to live in a permanent second class status.”
State Senator Gary Winfield said this is a challenging bill to get passed because of prejudice against ex-offenders.
“When all of us look at people, who are people just like us, who have made mistakes -- like every single one of us have made," said Winfield, "and we say it is not good enough that you have gone to jail, you’ve done the time, you have paid restitution, you’ve tried, you’ve applied...you’ve done all of the things that we’ve asked you to do. There’s still something different about you. That’s not about them, that’s about us.”
The bill passed out of the Judiciary committee earlier this month in a close 21-19 vote.