New York Gov. Kathy Hochul signed the Clean Slate Act last Thursday, sealing eligible felony and misdemeanor conviction records following an extended period after release.
According to its supporters, the legislation aims to give formerly incarcerated individuals a second chance by helping them reenter society, which will also contribute to addressing New York state’s labor shortage. It reforms a previous state record-sealing law, which was more limited in scope, did not automatically seal records and could only be applied more than a decade after one is no longer in prison.
“New York also has a labor shortage right now,” Hochul said. “I have 460,000 jobs that are unfilled today … [New York state is] lag behind other states in allowing people to get jobs because they’re haunted by long ago criminal records.”
The act goes into effect on Nov. 16, 2024 and will affect 2.3 million New Yorkers. After a fixed time when one is no longer incarcerated — after three years for misdemeanors and after eight years for felony convictions — an individual will be eligible to have their records sealed for civil purposes. Some crimes, including sex offenses, non-drug Class A felonies, murder and arson, are not eligible to be sealed under the new law.
Since the conviction records are sealed for civil purposes after the waiting period, records are still available to law enforcement and jobs requiring individuals to work with children or other vulnerable populations.
Many criminal justice proponents believe the act will deter future crime by helping formerly incarcerated individuals avoid a cycle of poverty with easier access to jobs and social services. Angela Riley, a Binghamton councilwoman, said in a press release that she considered the legislation to be part of a larger criminal justice reform strategy.
“By embracing a more compassionate and forward-thinking approach to criminal justice, we not only foster individual redemption but also contribute to building safer and more resilient communities,” the statement read. “Together we must continue to create legislation, programs and services that support the complete reintegration of individuals into society, recognizing that a society that provides a path to redemption, with a truly clean slate, is one that values justice and the potential for positive change.”
Racial justice and civil liberties advocates, including the New York Civil Liberties Union, praised the legislation because of its ability to help populations disproportionately affected by the criminal justice system, like people of color. Across New York state, Black people, who represent 14 percent of the state’s population, make up 40 percent of all misdemeanor and felony convictions. It is also being promoted by business supporters, including the Business Council of New York State and JPMorgan Chase, because of its potential positive economic impacts.
The legislation was modified to persuade holdouts from within the State Legislature and Hochul herself, as well as mollifying opposition from law enforcement groups. The waiting period was extended, and no Class A felonies except those related to drug possession can be sealed. New York State Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo credited her delayed support of the legislation to some of these modifications.
“I was one of the last co-sponsors to put my name on the bill,” Lupardo wrote in an email. “I worked with the main sponsor of the bill for a long time to ensure that important safeguards were put in place. I was also persuaded by the argument that this would help address the overwhelming workforce shortages we are facing. In addition, the support of the Business Council of [New York state], labor unions and dozens of other groups across the state contributed to my support.”
Brennan Lynch, a senior majoring in political science, viewed the legislation as a welcome step in criminal justice reform.
“The Clean Slate Act is a great step in the direction of reforming our flawed criminal justice system into one of rehabilitation rather than perpetual punishment,” Lynch wrote. “Even with this move in the right direction, it is important to acknowledge that more needs to be done to aid formerly incarcerated individuals in rejoining society. I think that a bill that creates a standardized system of expunging certain records would be the logical next step.”