Racial Equity in Eligibility for a Clean Slate under Automatic Criminal Record Relief Laws
Mooney, A.C., Skog, A., Lerman, A.E. (2022). Racial Equity in Eligibility for a Clean Slate under Automatic Criminal Record Relief Laws. Law and Society Review, 56(3). DOI:10.1111/lasr.12625.
46 Pages Posted: 27 Jun 2022 Last revised: 4 Aug 2022
Date Written: June 16, 2022
States have begun to pass legislation to provide automatic relief for eligible criminal records, potentially reducing the lifelong collateral consequences of criminal justice involvement. Yet numerous historical examples suggest that racially neutral policies can have profoundly disparate effects across racial groups. In the case of criminal record relief, racial equity in eligibility for a clean slate has not yet been examined. We find that in California, one in five people with convictions met criteria for full conviction relief under the state’s automatic relief laws. Yet the share of Black Americans eligible for relief was lower than white Americans, reproducing racial disparities in criminal records. We identify two policy amendments that would reduce the share of Black men in California with convictions on their criminal records from 22% to 9%, thereby narrowing the difference compared to white men from 15 to seven percentage points. Put another way, an additional one in seven Black men currently has a conviction record, compared to their white counterparts. This would decline to an additional one in 14 if both hypothetical policy amendments were incorporated. We close with discussion of criminal history data quality limitations, which pose a second key challenge to equitable implementation of automatic criminal record relief reforms nationwide.
Keywords: criminal record, clean slate laws, expungement, racial equity
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