Sitting around the dinner table with a warm meal in front of you, it’s hard not to reflect on how incredibly fortunate it is to provide food and a safe home for family and loved ones. For many, however, these fundamental staples are out of reach because of Colorado’s complex and ineffective process for sealing criminal records.
This year the General Assembly has an opportunity, in a proposed law called Colorado Clean Slate, to remove many of these barriers to employment and strengthen Colorado’s workforce, which is more important than ever in our post-pandemic world.
For those with eligible nonviolent offenses, Colorado already has a manual process to seal the record and remove these bureaucratic barriers to employment and housing. Colorado Clean Slate, Senate Bill 22-099, will automate the process, and will include civil infractions.
A criminal record can be an impossible obstacle to successfully reintegrating back into society, and becoming a contributing member of the community. We cannot use red tape to strip the freedom of our citizens to work and support their families. When people are employed and able to afford necessities, all of our communities are stronger and safer.
That is why the business community supports this bipartisan bill. Colorado companies such as Ibotta and Basic Industries are publicly supporting Clean Slate because they know how critical it is that Colorado expand its existing talent pool to increase productivity.
This policy will allow employers to access a vast, diverse, and underutilized segment of the workforce — which is more critical than ever in the face of expanding worker and consumer demand. This bill removes unnecessary operational and human resources red tape that will bolster workforce opportunities for a pre-vetted group of people, while increasing the pipeline of qualified job applicants, and advancing the economic stability of our state.
We don’t have to go far to see how successful this legislation will be. Clean Slate laws have passed in Utah, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Delaware, and Connecticut in the last few years. In fact, it passed in Republican-led Utah, unanimously, in 2019.
These laws also are being considered in numerous states, driven by the understanding that access to a stable career supports lifelong health, economic stability, and family wellbeing. If Colorado wants to remain competitive as an employer-friendly state in 2022, we should do the same.
Coloradans who this bill will help have completed their sentence, have waited a legally required period of time (between 4 and 10 years), and have not committed another offense. It’s hard to argue that these folks are of any risk to the community. These folks have proven, for years, to be good neighbors and thoughtful citizens; they deserve the opportunity to succeed not only for themselves, but for their families.
The research behind SB22-099 indicates many thousands of Coloradans could benefit from SB22-099 when they become eligible. But why do only 5% of eligible people go through the record-sealing process? Because the process is complex, expensive, and largely unknown to the general public.
And so a significant share of working age Coloradans carry the burden of this stigma, which needlessly creates barriers to long-term employment, education, affordable housing, and, as a result, a family’s well-being.
For instance, an otherwise qualified job applicant with a criminal record is 50% less likely to get a call back. If that person is somehow able to obtain employment, it’s estimated that their future earnings will be 10-40% less than someone without a record.
The hurdles in Colorado’s current record sealing process perpetuate the cycle of generational poverty, where no one comes out on top. SB22-099 will make the record sealing process more efficient while boosting economic stability for Colorado families.
This policy is fair, just, and evidence-based. We know from research that the likelihood of recidivism declines dramatically the longer a person goes without committing another offense. The individuals eligible in SB22-099 are no more likely, and in some cases less likely, to commit a crime than the general public. Yet, they are haunted by a record that repeatedly comes up during job interviews, housing applications, higher education and vocational work opportunities, and more.
At the end of the day, SB22-099 is about aligning our shared values with Colorado laws. We can’t claim to support justice and then ignore unjust barriers in front of Coloradans who have served their time and have made amends with society.
We have a unique chance to make our state more just, while strengthening our workforce and helping families help themselves.
For thousands of Coloradans and their families, there’s no time to waste.
Robert Rodriguez, of Denver, represents Senate District 32, and Dennis Hisey, of Colorado Springs, represents Senate District 2, in the Colorado Senate.
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