Opinion: Expungement cases good for business, community
With the advent of recreational marijuana, the word obliteration entered our lexicon. But what does it mean and why should the business world care?
I sometimes confuse extinction with the idea of criminal forgiveness—but that’s not entirely true. Forgiveness refers to what happens when someone is granted a pardon, and erasure refers to the process of erasing a criminal history—or sealing it from the public record.
Why should companies care about the right to erasure? In a word, workers. In other words, because our economy and community suffer when people are disenfranchised. Young adults sometimes make silly mistakes that sideline them for decades. These mistakes can shut them out of education, employment, and financial opportunities. If that happens, how does that person ever get to a place where they can or want to contribute to society?
Everyone knows that incarceration is expensive, but the impact of a criminal record is even more expensive. The “lock up and throw away the keys” issue that dominated political rhetoric in the 1980s, 1990s and beyond seemed like a solid platform for anyone to support – no one, not even criminals, advocates more crime. But the rhetoric led to policies that resulted in a criminal conviction that had further consequences – and that became an expensive nightmare for our government. We are now desperately looking for workers in a community with a high, low criminal conviction rate and poverty. This is no coincidence.
So now we are in an era of criminal justice reform – one of the few political categories with broad bipartisan support. Deletion is one of many aspects of this reform. A fresh start gets people back into the job market and back into the tax base. It offers pathways to education and higher-skilled jobs. It helps people re-enter the traditional banking system and makes the dream of home ownership and the economic benefits that come with it more tangible.
I think we can all agree that having healthy, self-sufficient individuals and families is in our community’s best interest. But half the children in our country have a parent with a criminal record. During my freshman semester of law school, I learned about the purposes of punishment: deterrence, incapacitation, rehabilitation, retribution, and reparation. Now, many years later, as I think of the continuum of justice and why erasure is important, I think of the word redemption. It saves individuals, families and society.
Another positive aspect of erasure is that it reduces recidivism and increases public safety. If you tell a young person convicted of a crime that he is marked with the scarlet letter for the rest of his life, he has very little incentive to deviate from the path that led to those earlier poor decisions. In most cases, they are likely to be insulted again. However, when society offers the same 19-year-old a light at the end of the tunnel with this avenue to clarify his or her record, we encourage behavior change that significantly reduces the likelihood of a re-offending.
Hopefully you were or are already convinced that deletion is good for business and good for our community. But there is a problem. The process for most deletions is expensive and complicated – and surprisingly few people start from scratch. Our Missouri lawmakers have expanded eligibility significantly over the past four years, and their efforts are greatly appreciated. The Springfield Metropolitan Bar Foundation has hosted a dozen Clean Slate Clinics and more are to come to help people understand and access the erasure. We have registered more than 2,000 people for these clinics and in partnership with Legal Services of Southern Missouri, many of them have access to free legal advice. Unfortunately, of the tens of thousands of Greene County residents who are eligible under this law, only 216 have been cleared as of September 2022. If we are to feel the effects of this criminal justice reform, we need a different route, and passage of Amendment 3 could help pave the way.
Missouri now has a constitutional “automatic” deletion for certain marijuana offenses that result in criminal records being wiped. An early bill by Senator Curtis Trent in the 2023 legislative session would significantly expand automatic deletion for nonviolent crimes. The bill has the support of a wide range of business, labor and faith-based organizations and I will personally support its passage.
Crista Hogan is Executive Director of the Springfield Metropolitan Bar Association and the Springfield Metropolitan Bar Foundation. She can be reached at [email protected]