New Yorkers who complete their sentences and stay out of trouble for a certain period will have their criminal records automatically sealed under a long-awaited bill signed into law by Gov. Kathy Hochul on Thursday.
New York now joins several other states, including California, New Jersey, and Michigan, which have passed similar measures in recent years.
The years-long endeavor to get the legislation over the finish line is seen as a major victory in criminal justice reform by various organizations, including labor and advocacy groups.
Governor Kathy Hochul: “The best crime-fighting tool is a good-paying job. With the Clean Slate Act, we are giving New Yorkers who have done their time and remained crime-free a clean slate so they can contribute to our economy and help our state thrive.”
We’re not going to judge people by their worst moments in life after they've paid their debt and stayed on the right track. The Clean Slate Act provides a pathway for change, growth, and renewal. pic.twitter.com/cgtIieOuNL
— Governor Kathy Hochul (@GovKathyHochul) November 16, 2023
See the full press release below:
Governor Kathy Hochul signed the Clean Slate Act, which allows certain criminal records to be sealed years after an individual is sentenced or released from incarceration if that individual is not subsequently convicted of an additional criminal act. Following their release from any incarceration, records of individuals with eligible misdemeanor convictions will be sealed after three years and those with certain felony convictions, after eight years. The Clean Slate Act will not seal the records of individuals convicted of sex crimes, murder or other non-drug Class A felonies; law enforcement, prosecutors, the New York State Education Department, the courts and other groups will continue to have access to all criminal records under this law.
“The best crime-fighting tool is a good-paying job. That’s why I support giving New Yorkers a clean slate after they’ve paid their debt to society and gone years without an additional offense,” Governor Hochul said. “I negotiated a compromise that protects public safety and boosts economic opportunity, and the final Clean Slate Law will help New Yorkers access jobs and housing while allowing police, prosecutors and school officials to protect their communities. And as our state faces a worker shortage, with more than 450,000 job openings right now, this new law will help businesses find more workers who will help them grow, expand and thrive.”
“The Clean Slate Act is a historic step forward with regard to restorative justice and second chances,” said Lieutenant Governor Antonio Delgado. “This will allow so many New Yorkers to build a new future for themselves, their families, and their community.”
State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said, “Clean Slate offers a genuine second chance to individuals who have fully paid their debt to society, enabling them to restart their lives and become positive contributors to their communities. By the Legislature passing, and the Governor signing the Clean Slate bill into law, we are affirming our belief in redemption and improving our society by providing formerly incarcerated individuals a better path forward and removing barriers that have prevented so many from establishing stability in their lives. My appreciation goes to Senator Zellnor Myrie for championing this bill in the Senate, and to my Conference for their support in passing this vital legislation that will empower thousands of New Yorkers to forge a better future. I also thank Governor Hochul who has shown that her administration recognizes the economic and moral implications of this important bill.”
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said, “By signing the Clean Slate Act into law, we will give millions of New Yorkers who served their time the opportunity to begin a new chapter of their lives – helping open the door to housing and employment opportunities previously closed to them. Thank you to bill sponsor Assemblymember Catalina Cruz and the many members of our Assembly majority conference who fought hard to get this passed. We remain committed to building a criminal justice system that prioritizes rehabilitation over perpetual punishment and this is an important step in that direction. I look forward to continuing to work with our partners in government to achieve that goal.”
The Clean Slate Act (S.7551A/A.1029C) takes effect one year from today. It provides the New York State Office of Court Administration up to three years from that date to implement the processes necessary to identify and seal all eligible records. The law will seal certain criminal records following an individual’s release from any incarceration: eligible misdemeanor convictions will be sealed three years after release, and eligible felony convictions will be sealed eight years after release – on the condition that the individual convicted of the offense has not committed an additional crime in the intervening period.
The law also includes multiple components to protect public safety. Records will not be sealed to law enforcement or the criminal justice system. Records will not be sealed for individuals convicted of sex offenses, murder, domestic terror and other non-drug Class A felonies, and will also not be sealed until parole or probation is complete and there are no criminal charges in New York State. The clock restarts altogether if parole or probation is revoked or if there is a new conviction. Employers permitted by law to perform fingerprint-based criminal history checks on job applicants will continue to receive those records and use them to determine whether individuals should be hired. Conviction information will remain available for law enforcement purposes, the hiring of police and peace officers, the hiring of teachers at public and private schools, and background checks for firearm purchases and/or licenses.
New York will become the 12th state in the nation to sign Clean Slate legislation, joining states like Utah, South Dakota, Oklahoma, New Jersey, Michigan and Pennsylvania. A study from the libertarian Cato Institute found that following Michigan’s passage of record expungement legislation, individuals with expunged records posed a lower crime risk than the general statewide population; the same study found that the reconviction rate for violent crimes was less than 1 percent.
A criminal record can impede an individual’s full participation in their communities after they have served their sentence. This is especially true for individuals from communities of color, who have been disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system. While New York State has the lowest incarceration rate among states with more than 10 million residents, racial disparities persist. Studies show that without Clean Slate, New York is missing out on $12.6 billion in annual economic activity – the total cost of lost wages each year due to the reduced earnings of individuals with unsealed records; nationwide, the cost to GDP is approximately $87 billion each year.
New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services Commissioner Rossana Rosado said, “The Clean Slate Act will help reduce recidivism by ensuring that people who have served their sentences can access educational opportunities, jobs and housing, which are all essential ingredients to success. Helping individuals successfully transition back to their communities improves lives and public safety, and the Clean Slate Act makes our criminal justice system fairer for all. I thank Governor Kathy Hochul for her leadership, vision and support for reforms that work.”
New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision Acting Commissioner Daniel F. Martuscello III said, “Removing barriers to reentry and providing justice-involved individuals with a second chance is critical to the rehabilitation process. The Clean Slate Act will not only further the Department’s efforts to reduce recidivism, but will bring hope to hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers by providing greater access to employment and housing. I applaud Governor Hochul for her leadership in implementing such impactful change while fully prioritizing public safety. The Department has already begun working with our State partners to ensure that the Office of Court Administration has the resources necessary to implement this law as expeditiously as possible.”
State Senator Zellnor Myrie said, “It’s not every day that we can change our laws to strengthen our communities, make our legal system more fair, improve public safety and grow our economy at the same time. But that’s exactly what Clean Slate will do for New Yorkers. I’m grateful to Governor Hochul for signing this transformative bill into law, to my partner Assembly Member Catalina Cruz, and to one of the largest, broadest and most diverse coalitions in state history who helped make this moment possible. To the millions of New Yorkers who will be impacted by this law, I’m proud to say the wait is over.”
Assemblymember Catalina Cruz said, I am profoundly moved by this incredible step in our journey for justice, redemption, and economic development. This transformative law seeks to redress the harmful aftermath of a criminal justice system designed to promote inequity and injustice, even once the debt has been paid to society. Millions of New Yorkers have been burdened by the crippling weight of their past convictions. By providing qualifying individuals with a clean slate, we are unlocking doors to dignified employment, education, and housing, thereby fueling economic growth and stability for all New Yorkers. Ensuring that people can work and find housing is the best way to keep our communities safe, reduce recidivism, and break the cyclic poverty and mass incarceration for generations to come. I am proud of the strong and supportive coalition we built, from labor unions, to small and large businesses, to criminal justice activists and law enforcement, as well as faith and civic leaders. This is a testament to our commitment to building a more inclusive and just economy, where everyone has the opportunity to contribute and thrive regardless of their past. I would like to thank Governor Hochul for signing this bill into law, as well as Speaker Heastie for never faltering in our collective vision. I also want to thank my colleague Senator Myrie and the Clean Slate Coalition for fighting every step of the way so that 2.3 million New Yorkers and their generations to come receive the second chance they so desperately need.”
The law requires the Office of Court Administration to determine which criminal history records are eligible for sealing and notify the following entities of those sealed convictions: the state Division of Criminal Justice Services, which maintains the state’s fingerprint-based criminal history records; courts of conviction, county clerks, police departments, sheriffs’ offices, and district attorneys’ offices.
The law also builds upon other efforts implemented and enacted by New York State to help remove barriers faced by people with criminal convictions, especially the approximately 25,000 individuals who return to their communities annually after serving prison sentences. The state has reinstated the right to vote for people on parole; removed outright bans on occupational licenses; implemented fair-chance hiring at state agencies; and prohibited discrimination at state-financed housing based solely on an individual’s criminal record, among other initiatives.
Governor Hochul has prioritized public safety throughout her time in office, securing the most criminal justice system funding in a generation; and increasing investments to improve opportunities for young people and families and strengthen communities. The FY24 budget funds the Governor’s public safety plan and comprehensive plan to fight gun violence and violent crime, improve community safety and increase public trust in the criminal justice system. As part of this plan, the budget includes record investments to support programs and services that assist with re-entry, and pretrial programs designed to divert individuals from deeper involvement in the criminal justice system.