Advocates and architects of Connecticut’s “Clean Slate” law reacted with disappointment Wednesday to news that the state would miss its Jan. 1 implementation date for the policy designed to automatically clear records of certain crimes after a period of time.
Members of CONECT, a group of faith leaders and criminal justice advocates, staged a morning press conference at the Community Baptist Church in New Haven to react to an acknowledgement from the state Criminal Justice Information System Governing Board that the criminal records of some 300,000 residents would not be wiped clean next month as the law required.
Advocates took the delay with skepticism if not surprise.
“Many people with records have a healthy distrust of state government already,” Rodney Moore, a member of CONECT and fatherhood coordinator at New Haven Healthy Start, said. “But if they keep this up then that’s only going to make it even worse. So I say to you today, government — governor — please make sure that this does not delay the process.”
The law was crafted to help formerly incarcerated people find employment, education and housing by sweeping away records of past indiscretions after a period of seven to 10 years. It applies to people convicted of misdemeanors, Class D and E felonies as well as some unclassified crimes.
The reasons for the delay are complicated. In a letter last week, the board posed a series of questions to the chairs of the legislature’s Judiciary Committee, which the panel said required clarification and potentially legislative action before the records can be purged. Those issues ranged from clerical questions to concerns that the coming erasures may terminate early registration requirements for sex offenders or deadly weapon offenders.
The chairs of the legislative panel, Rep. Steve Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport, and Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, appeared with the activists and clergy Wednesday morning.
Winfield said many of the people waiting for their records to be cleared would likely chalk the delay up to a broken promise from state policymakers. However, he said the state was not dragging its feet unnecessarily.
“We are speaking to the governor of the state and his staff and I would assure you — and I would not do this if you know me — that there is real work going on and it is not just delayed because people don’t want to do this work,” Winfield said. Stafstrom agreed that Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration was working in good faith to implement a complicated statutory framework.
Others gathered Wednesday wanted commitments from the administration for when impacted residents could expect the law to be implemented.
“We’d like to see a reassurance and a recommitment from Governor Lamont to fully implement Clean Slate as soon as possible,” Philip Kent, a chair of the group’s criminal justice reform team, said.
“We’ve been in communication with state officials on a fairly regular basis, but given the fact that we know implementation is going to be delayed, we’d like to see a monthly progress report and have meetings with Governor Lamont’s staff,” Kent said.
Asked about the delay during an unrelated press conference at the state Capitol building, the governor referenced both the Clean Slate law and a provision of a separate law which legalized the adult use of cannabis.
The cannabis law included a provision erasing the records of some 44,000 marijuana possession cases. Those cannabis records will be expunged on Jan. 1, Lamont said. The others ordered by the Clean Slate bill will take more time, he said.
“Some of the slightly more complicated ones take a little more definition, requires a database to make sure that’s working,” Lamont said. “So, didn’t get that done overnight but it will be done, I believe in the first half of the coming year.”
In their letter to lawmakers, Criminal Justice Information System Governing Board co-chairs, Judge Patrick L. Carroll and Office of Policy and Management Undersecretary Marc Pelka, said they expected some legislative adjustments might be necessary before the erasures can be carried out.
For instance, they worried that the Clean Slate law lacked a trigger to block the erasure of the criminal records of someone who was currently facing pending charges.
“A legislative change could include either pausing erasures on the prior convictions of a person with a pending charge, if technically feasible,” Carroll and Pelka wrote. “Or reducing Clean Slate erasure’s effect, such as consideration of prior convictions on the setting of bonds or the consideration of prior convictions in sentencing.”
Winfield and Stafstrom told reporters they were not averse to making changes to the bill during the session that begins next month to facilitate its implementation. However, they expected those changes to be minimal.
Although a less ambitious bill may have been easier to implement on time, Winfield said he felt good about the product, even if it takes an extra few months.
“Let’s say [it’s implemented in] August — we will have gone further than we were told that we could get to, further to affect the lives that we’re going to affect,” Winfield said. “At the end of the day, if we’re seven or eight months past that and we get there, then we’ve done a good thing.”