October is Youth Justice Action Month (YJAM). The youth criminal justice system is far from just — young people remain over-policed and over-criminalized, pushing Black children and other children of color into a system proven to cause long-lasting harm. YJAM is an opportunity to connect virtually, learn more about the harms of our current systems, and take action to support our young people!
Criminal records harm child and family well-being.
Criminal convictions create life-long barriers to employment, housing, and education that directly impact the conditions for children and families. Criminal records restrict opportunities, undermine economic mobility and success for families across generations, and push families deeper into poverty.
One of the most significant effects of a criminal conviction is exposure to the civil consequences which can permanently impair one’s future, even if the individual never reoffends. The Council of State Governments has found 1,052 civil consequences of conviction in New York. These legal and regulatory sanctions and restrictions attach to both felony and misdemeanor convictions and affect people’s lives in a wide range of ways, including the ability to access and keep jobs, housing, loans, credit, and education. These consequences ensure that punishments last far beyond the term of any court-imposed sanction, essentially becoming a life sentence of stigma and lost opportunity that impacts individuals and their families.
Research shows the deleterious intergenerational effects of parental criminal records across different domains of family well-being: income, savings and assets, education, housing, and family strength and stability. The impacts of having a criminal record do not disappear after one generation; rather, they continue to cause disadvantage for children and families.
Saddling people with permanent, life-long criminal records is unnecessarily harsh and does not make our communities safer or help families to thrive. Record sealing for people with convictions as adolescents and young adults will allow many young people to meaningfully join the workforce and contribute to our communities.
In New York, the Clean Slate Bill (S.1553B/A.6399A) would provide automatic record sealing and remove barriers for housing and most jobs.
Under Clean Slate, a person would be eligible for automatic criminal record sealing after 3 years for misdemeanors and 7 years for felonies if they have completed their sentence (jail, prison, probation, parole), the conviction is not a sex offense, and the person has not been charged or convicted again during the waiting period.
Recent advances in science demonstrate that the adolescent brain is not fully developed until the mid-twenties. While the law would apply to people of any age, Clean Slate offers people convicted of crimes as youth an important tool to mitigate the long-term burden that criminal records pose. Moreover, given the well-documented disproportionate impact of the criminal legal system on Black and Latinx youth, Clean Slate offers another policy remedy to help decrease the obstacles to their success.
Clean Slate is a crucial step toward racial and economic justice, addressing some of the deep racial disparities that are evident at every stage of the criminal legal system, and providing pathways to more full participation in our neighborhoods and communities, which is essential to the well-being of children, youth, and families.
You can read more about the Clean Slate Bill in New York and take action at https://www.cleanslateny.org.