Entrepreneurs, business owners and job creators understand the concept of failing your way to success. Mistakes are simply learning opportunities and steps along the path of discovery. This is how individuals progress, businesses grow, jobs are created and our economy prospers.
Learning from mistakes in the business world is a principle that should extend to the criminal justice world as well. When individuals who have made mistakes are able to accomplish what society hopes and expects of them, by turning their lives around, they deserve a second chance. A bill before the Utah state legislature has the power to do just that.
Under current state law, individuals who are eligible to petition the court to have a low-level criminal record expunged must undergo a costly and complex legal process that can take up to two years. Many do not pursue the process and others are unaware they are even eligible.
In Utah, pursuing the expungement process costs several hundred dollars in addition to attorney fees. The current backlog of expungement applications in our courts is seven months — and that’s just to determine eligibility. After that, the court petition process takes even longer.
As a result, tens of thousands of Utahns are barred from jobs, housing and educational opportunities because of past mistakes. Although they have paid their debt to society, they continue to pay for their past mistakes by being prevented from finding a job, regaining self-sufficiency, supporting their families and contributing to the community.
Other states are addressing this problem by implementing a program called Clean Slate, and this session the state legislature has the opportunity to add Utah to the list. Clean Slate is a bipartisan initiative that uses technology to streamline a state’s existing expungement process so that more people get the second chances they are already eligible to receive. The goal is to automatically expunge qualifying records for people who remain crime-free for a specified period of time. Only misdemeanors, minor infractions, acquittals and dismissals are covered under the proposal.
In addition to reducing strain on courts and saving taxpayer dollars, Clean Slate will allow thousands of willing, eligible workers to join the employment ranks. This is especially important in Utah as our economy is growing faster than the pace at which we can produce the skilled workforce necessary to meet labor demands. With an annual unemployment rate at 3.1 percent, Utah’s labor shortage continues to tighten and industries across the entire state are feeling the pinch. Clean Slate helps tackle this workforce shortage by providing a path to employment to those Utahns whose minor convictions in the past are preventing them from getting jobs today.
Supporters across the political and ideological spectrum understand that reducing employment barriers for people with prior convictions is a smart public safety policy, improving the odds that such individuals will land a steady job and remain crime-free. Research clearly shows that employment is a key factor in reducing recidivism. By streamlining expungement for those who are already eligible, we can help them enter the workforce and become productive members of our communities. It is the right thing to do for the economy and for those people in need of a second chance.