On Thursday, November 16th, Governor Kathy Hochul signed the Clean Slate Act into law, a transformative piece of legislation that promises to seal the criminal records of over two million New Yorkers.
In a ceremony at the Brooklyn Museum, Hochul unveiled the plan that will seal criminal felony records after eight years and misdemeanors after three, contingent on the absence of subsequent offenses.
The law, however, excludes severe crimes such as murder, sexual offenses, and most class A felonies, barring drug possession-related offenses.
The new law is set to be implemented in a year.
“The Clean Slate Act is a historic step forward with regard to restorative justice and second chances,” Lieutenant Governor Antonio Delgado said at the event, underscoring the law’s potential to pave new pathways for countless citizens.
Governor Hochul highlighted the Clean Slate Act’s economic benefits, particularly in light of the state’s labor shortage, linking crime reduction to employment, “The best crime-fighting tool is a good-paying job,” she stated.
Governor Hochul added, “They’ve paid their debt to society. They’ve gone through the process. They did their time. They’re done. But when they reenter society, there are still barriers to housing and jobs. I say no more. We’re here today to correct that injustice.”
Attorney General Letitia James and advocates like Melinda Agnew from the Center for Community Alternatives endorse the law, highlighting its potential to transform lives by increasing access to employment and housing.
Agnew shared her experience of the law’s necessity: “Twenty-six years after successfully completing my sentence, despite all that I have accomplished, I continue to have doors closed in my face,” illustrating the persistent barriers that the Clean Slate Act aims to dismantle.
A study by the Data Collaborative for Justice at John Jay College revealed that approximately 2.2 million New Yorkers have recorded criminal convictions between 1980 and 2021.
Another study from the center highlights that, In New York City, approximately 80% of individuals with criminal conviction records, totaling nearly 400,000 people, are Black or Latinx.
The bill’s signing has garnered praise from business organizations, including major corporations such as Microsoft and JP Morgan Chase. They contend that expanding the labor force will enhance the state’s economic competitiveness, especially in the face of a nationwide labor shortage.
Nevertheless, the legislation has its critics, including former Congressman Lee Zeldin, who contends that such laws weaken law enforcement and compromise public safety.
Zeldin noted, “In Kathy Hochul’s New York, pro-criminal laws have been surrendering our streets to criminals, our law enforcement officers aren’t adequately supported, and we remain the only state in the nation that does not allow judges’ discretion to weigh dangerousness when setting bail.”