Feb 15 2024
Data Analytics

States Can Unlock Opportunities for Millions in 2024

Governments have the tools to automatically clear criminal records at scale — and they should use them.

For 77 million people in America — 1 in 3 adults — a criminal record creates significant barriers to finding a job, receiving an education and maintaining safe housing. And for decades, the process for clearing such a record has been a bureaucratic nightmare.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

In a dozen states, Republicans and Democrats alike have taken steps to change what can be an unforgiving system by shifting the responsibility of clearing criminal records from individuals to the government through a process known as automatic record clearance.

We’re optimistic that in 2024 more states will make automatic record clearance a reality and build a future where people, regardless of their past, have a chance at a new beginning.

It’s a process that every state in the nation can and should adopt in 2024.

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Automation Enables Bulk Processing of Records

At the center of this process is the mindful use of technology. Automation reviews records in bulk to determine eligibility — much faster than any human could. It also streamlines communication between government agencies, so records get updated faster. Technology has made it possible to clear 40 million records in Pennsylvania and 11 million records in California. In Michigan, a million people have already had their records cleared, with hundreds of thousands more expected to join them in the near future. And Utah has delivered record clearance for more than 310,000 people.

Momentum is only growing. Through the National Criminal History Improvement Program, federal funding is available to help states adapt and improve their existing technology systems to make automatic record clearance easier. And this year, Minnesota and New York — the latest states to pass Clean Slate legislation — will begin to lay the technical foundation needed to deliver on the promise of their policies. That change in these two states will be a big step forward for justice.

But the true promise of what automatic record clearance can unlock for this country will only be realized once it is adopted in every state. While these states are leading the pack, the potential to implement these policies isn’t unique to them: Every state has the basic tools that it needs to automatically clear records.

READ: Feds update cybersecurity standards for criminal info.

Every State Can Adopt Automatic Record Clearance Policies

That’s not hyperbole. It’s based on what we’ve seen for years at Code for America, a civic tech nonprofit that works shoulder-to-shoulder with government to advance equity. Since 2018, we’ve worked with more than 20 states — including nearly all of those with Clean Slate laws — to help design automatic record clearance policies. We’ve also worked with Utah and California to build and deploy technology for their automatic record clearance processes.

Our experience has affirmed that automatic record clearance can — and should — be the standard.

Not only is it the right thing to do but it also makes it easier for governments to serve the people who need them most. The status quo of having people apply for record clearance can take months or even years. Automation means that people’s records are cleared as soon as state law renders them eligible — with no paperwork, no attorneys and no wait time required.

Many states have already gone down this road and provided meaningful relief to millions. 

The moment is now for others to join in, create meaningful reform of our criminal justice system and help millions of people in America get a fresh start and improve their lives and livelihoods.

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