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Expungement campaign seeks to give Georgians a clean slate

New Expungement Campaign Makes the Case for Giving

Millions of Georgians a Clean Slate and Unlock Opportunities

ATLANTA, Jan. 3, 2020 – In Georgia, 4.2 million people have a criminal record (approximately 40 percent of the state’s adults). Second Chance for Georgia, a new campaign led by the Georgia Justice Project, is aiming to bring change to millions of lives by working to expand expungement (known as “Record Restriction” in Georgia law) in the state of Georgia. 

The Campaign brings together a diverse group of stakeholders to expand Georgia’s expungement law, which is one of the most restrictive and harshest in the country. Currently, 40 other states allow expungement of some misdemeanor and felony convictions after a period of conviction-free years. But no matter how many years have passed or how much a person has changed, almost all convictions stay on a person’s record forever in Georgia. Updating Georgia law would allow for restriction and sealing of certain misdemeanor and felony convictions for countless individuals and give people a second chance.

More than 50 partner organizations have signed on to the Second Chance campaign, with new organizations still joining. During the 2019 legislative session, five expungement bills were dropped, with momentum continuing to mount. Faced with a tight labor market, chambers of commerce and workforce development organizations are starting to see how Georgia’s narrow law impedes the ability of employers to hire rehabilitated individuals without liability concerns. They have expressed support for expanding expungement as a way to fill the talent acquisition gap that Georgia employers are experiencing. Faith leaders see expanding expungement as a way the state can honor rehabilitation and redemption.

Offering support to individuals who have been involved in the criminal justice system and reducing barriers to re-entry and employment provides many positive benefits to the state and are imperative to give residents better opportunities to succeed in life and better their communities. Consider:

  • Criminal records in Georgia create lifetime barriers to employment, housing, higher education and other opportunities regardless of the individual’s rehabilitation and how much time has passed. Approximately 40 percent of the state’s adults have a Georgia criminal record.
  • In 2018, the Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform recommended the expansion of restriction and sealing to certain convictions.
  • Prosecutors and law enforcement officers always retain access to expunged records, but it removes barriers to employment and housing for people who have completed their sentence and demonstrated they are law abiding for a number of years.
  • Georgia has the country’s highest rate of correctional control but is one of only 10 states currently that don’t allow expungement of convictions, no matter how long ago they occurred.
  • At least 40 states allow expungement of some convictions, but in Georgia, only arrests that did not lead to a conviction and certain misdemeanor convictions before age 21 can be expunged.
  • Illinois found that steady employment led to a 62 percent reduction in recidivism for people with a criminal record.1
  • In Michigan, a cleared record increased likelihood of employment by 11 percent and wages by 22 percent in the first year.2
  • A Stanford University study shows that record expungement led to an average increase of $6,190 in yearly income per individual. 3
  • Expanding expungement benefits communities by increasing public safety, helping employers fill open positions in Georgia’s tight labor market and strengthening the economy.

Douglas Ammar, GJP executive director, says change is both vital for the state’s long-term prosperity and the right thing to do for rehabilitated individuals. “For decades we’ve seen the crushing and long-lasting impact of a criminal conviction. We have seen convictions, despite years of no other offenses and evidence of rehabilitation, block job opportunities. We’ve seen 40-year-old misdemeanor convictions, with no arrests since then, prohibit clients from obtaining senior housing. If someone has made a mistake, not only should we NOT hold it against them for the rest of their lives, but we should also honor their rehabilitation and give them access to life’s essentials.”

To join the campaign movement, click here.

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©2019 Atlanta Tribune: The Magazine

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