Supporters rallied in Albany on Tuesday as New York lawmakers looked to introduce the latest version of the Clean Slate Act.
Senate Bill S211 would automatically seal conviction files after three years of completed sentence for misdemeanors and seven years for felonies. The person may also not be under community supervision or have new beliefs. Individuals convicted of sex crimes are exempt from the bill.
If passed, the law would seal the criminal records of around 2.3 million New Yorkers.
During Tuesday’s rally, several previously detained people whose paperwork was due to be sealed with the passage of the law shared their support for the law.
“We have to speak loud enough for them to hear us,” said Ismael Diaz Jr., a director of the Center for Community Alternatives at the rally. “But we need them to listen to us.”
“We don’t need a leader. We have to lead,” said Diaz. “We don’t want to make any compromises. We want to rise. We don’t want to be pacified. We need to be reclassified.”
Diaz Jr. told the crowd he was having trouble maintaining employment after his time in prison. He has now completed his master’s degree and started his own business.
“I will continue to grow my business and hire formerly incarcerated individuals,” Diaz Jr. said. “And equip them with the knowledge and teach them the skills they need to excel and inspire them to never give up on themselves.” “
The previous Clean Slate bill passed the Senate last year but was stalled and eventually died in assembly. Public safety concerns were among the main causes of the failure of the bill.
However, Rep. Catalina Cruz, a supporter of the bill, said all sides had compromised, and highlighted how the latest bill allows law enforcement, judges and the state Department of Education to access an individual’s sealed records as part of investigations, Licenses for sensitive professions or criminal conviction.
“Well, what excuse do we have?” she asked at the rally. There, Cruz turned his back on the podium several times to speak directly to family members of formerly incarcerated individuals who would be impacted by the passage of the law.
She argued that the bill would improve public safety as communities are safer when people are at work.
Eddie Gibbs, the first formerly imprisoned member of the New York Assembly, also campaigned for the bill as a legislator and formerly imprisoned.
“We are not owned,” he said. “We are human.”
Senator Jamal Bailey then called Gibbs back to the podium, pointed at him and said, “That’s why you need legislation like this.”
Along with lawmakers and former inmates, several union leaders and state business council officials attended Tuesday’s rally to rally behind the Clean Slate Act.
According to Brennan Center for Justice, The bill could bring the state an estimated $7.1 billion in additional revenue annually.
In addition, a center for economic and political research to learn estimates an annual US$87 billion in GDP lost nationwide from the exclusion of criminals from the workforce.
In her speech, Representative Anna Kelles touted the success of clean bills in other states, including Republican-majority states.
Similar legislation received bipartisan support and was passed in Utah, Connecticut, California and Michigan. Texas, Missouri and West Virginia are considering their own version of the bill.
Hilberto Ramos, who said he was released in February after being paroled to life imprisonment from a 25-year sentence, earned a master’s degree while incarcerated. Since returning home, he has faced rejection after rejection because of his history.
“You should ask me what I am today,” Ramos said.
Pastor Aaron Chancy, a fellow speaker who was formerly imprisoned, now has his PhD.
The clean slate law “has an opportunity to give people a second chance at life,” Chancy said.