The Washington State Second Chance Expungement Gap
15 Pages Posted: 25 Mar 2020
Date Written: February 28, 2020
Every time a person is convicted of a crime, this event is memorialized in the person’s criminal record in perpetuity, setting off thousands of potential collateral consequences, including being penalized in searches for employment, housing and volunteer opportunities. To remove these harmful consequences, Washington law allows people whose criminal records meet certain conditions to vacate their records. However, the Second Chance Gap in Washington “expungements” - the share of people who aren’t accessing the vacation remedy because of hurdles in the petition process - we suspect is large. To estimate it, we used research and practice expertise to approximately model the eligibility criteria for vacation set forth in the law and applied it to a sample of records obtained through a records request from the Administrative Office of the Courts of Washington. Importantly, data limitations made it impossible for us to consider out of state charges, payment of fines and fees, and sentence completion, so we did not model these eligibility conditions. Based on our analysis, Washington’s vacation laws allow for approximately 60% of those who live burdened with criminal conviction records, or over 1M people, to potentially receive relief. But less than 5% of those eligible for relief, and less than 1% of the charges eligible for relief have received the remedy. At current rates of vacation, we estimate that it would take over 4,000 years to clear the backlog of eligible charges using current, petition-based methods, based on our calculations regarding the number of charges that we estimate are eligible for vacation, and the actual number of charges that were vacated last year (1,973). Existing racial disparities in the Washington criminal justice system are significant: currently, African-Americans represent 4.2% of individuals in Washington but within our sample, Afrian-Americans represented 11% of Washingtonians with a criminal record, 15% of Washingtonians with any felony record, and 22% of Washingtonians with a Class A felony record. Among the population of people with criminal records, Clean Slate would apply evenly and therefore not exacerbate but also, would not narrow racial disparities. However, among the general population, Clean Slate would reduce racial disparities significantly as the differences in the share of African-Americans with a record and share of whites with a record would get considerably smaller. Because of the large second chance gap, the filing of petitions by all those who are entitled to could result in a severe congestion at the courts. Washington can close the 95-99% second chance gap between eligibility and delivery of relief by automating relief, solving both problems, but only if it implements the law with some adjustments and compensates for missing and dirty data.
Keywords: criminal records, expungement, Second Chance gap, Washington State, eligibility, vacated convictions, cost-benefit analysis, uptake analysis, computational policy
JEL Classification: K14, K4
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation