Whether to seal criminal records in New York is coming down to one key question for Democrats: How long should a person’s conviction affect their life?
Democratic lawmakers this month are negotiating a plan that would seal many criminal records — helping those with convictions obtain a job or housing. But Republicans remain skeptical, arguing that recidivism is harder to judge and capture.
And yet new research released this week shined a light on how many criminal convictions for New Yorkers were resolved decades ago.
State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins says the issue comes down to time.
"Probably the biggest disagreement is the length of time between when someone is no longer quote-end-quote justice involved," she said this week.
Lawmakers are weighing whether to pass what supporters call the Clean Slate Act that would seal some conviction records years after a sentence is complete.
"You can’t have endless repayment of your debt to society," Stewart-Cousins said. "At some point you should be allowed to be accepted as someone who is willing to move forward and contribute. That’s what we want."
The legislative-backed bill has called for a three-year waiting period for misdemeanor convictions and a 7-year window for felonies.
And now new research from John Jay College has highlighted the broader effect of sealing records. Researcher Michael Rempel found Black New Yorkers have been disproportionately affected by convictions.
"It immediately means these long-lasting socioeconomic effects would be reduced and that would especially mean reducing inequity impacting Black New Yorkers," Rempel said.
The report found more than a million convictions in New York are least 20 years old.
"People tend to age out of crime. It’s the case that people are forever recidivists," he said.
But Republicans like Assemblyman Mike Reilly aren’t convinced — raising concerns the measure presents a public safety risk.
"When we’re looking to expunge records of those convicted, is it going to be enough time where we know they won’t get in trouble again?" Reilly said, though the measure would seal, not expunge convictions
New York should take a more serious look at how to aid people once they’ve left prison, he added.
"Over the past two years, legislation has already passed to improve that — along with voting rights," he said. "So there’s already improvements in the ability for them to find work."