Internet Explorer 11 is not supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Connecticut’s Clean Slate Law Will Wipe 81K Records in January

The 2021 law will erase nonviolent crimes from public records in hopes of improving employment and housing opportunities for formerly incarcerated people. Technological upgrades required $8 million for implementation.

Years of delays in revising old information technology have finally been finished by various state agencies, and now 81,000 Connecticut residents will have their criminal records automatically erased by the end of January as part of the state's 2021 Clean Slate law, officials announced in a sometimes emotional news conference at the Community Baptist Church.

For Helen Caraballo, a 35-year-old mother of five kids, ages 12 to 2, it means a chance for better job opportunities as a certified nurse's aide at Yale New Haven Health, now that her felony will be expunged from public records.

For leading lawmakers such as state Sen. Gary Winfield, it's just a partial success at a time when the state needs to do more for the youth in under-resourced communities, to steer them away from the school-to-prison pipeline.

Gov. Ned Lamont joined dozens of faith leaders and reform advocates on Monday in the church, off of Dixwell Avenue, for a news conference that was mostly celebratory, now that $8 million in technological upgrades have been completed in the judicial and executive branch agencies to create an automatic erasure program.

The record non-violent erasures, joining more than 43,000 cannabis-possession convictions wiped out in Connecticut's full legalization of the drug, are expected to make it easier for formerly incarcerated people to get better jobs, improve housing opportunities and pave paths for occupational licenses.

"Twelve years ago, after associating myself with the wrong crowd, I was arrested and charged with a felony," Caraballo said to about 100 people. "Eventually I (pleaded) guilty to a felony drug conspiracy charge and the judge sentenced me to a suspended sentence. But since then I have been serving another sentence. It's not the one that the judge imposed, but one that has been very real with employers, landlords, schools and professions that have judged me ever since. Despite these never-ending judgments I continue to move forward and strive to be better. I worked very hard to rebuild my life."

Caraballo said that with the erasure of the record and her completed prerequisites, she now stands a better chance of getting accepted to nursing school. "This has been the best Christmas present I could have ever gotten," she said.

Winfield, D- New Haven, who starting working on the Clean Slate legislation back in 2018, recalled that many told him such a law — now adopted by 11 other states — did not make sense. "I recall getting very hot," he recalled, stressing that the state's correction system does not rehabilitate people. "What you have been doing is purposely leading people on. Purposely leaving people in shackles that you can see when they get out of our prisons. You get out, you get a second chance at what?"

Winfield, the veteran co-chairman of the law-writing legislative Judiciary Committee, said that erasing records chips away at part of the social and economic problems.

"Right now in the state of Connecticut we have young folks who are not getting the education they're supposed to get," Winfield said, his voice rising with emotion. "If you believe in second chances, you better believe in first chances. There is a lot of work to do."

New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker said that the city has a reentry program for the 900 people a year who complete their terms of incarceration, but then have to make sense of their lives. "We talk a lot about being a second-chance society, but in reality, we are not," said Elicker. Standing nearby was Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim, himself a convicted felon who was released from federal prison nearly 14 years ago.

State Rep. Steve Stafstrom, D- Bridgeport, co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said that one of his satisfactions is remembering back when a legislative idea germinated, long before it comes to fruition.

"This bill, I think in my 10 years in the legislature, is arguably the single-biggest economic development bill the state of Connecticut has passed," Stafstrom said. "We're doing it while other states are starting to follow our lead. And you know why they're following pour lead, because Connecticut is the third-safest state in the entire nation. The data is, that over the last 12 years we have cut our violent crime rate in half."

Marc Pelka, under secretary for criminal justice policy in the state Office of Policy and Management, said that most of the delay was caused by the need for technology upgrades across agencies — including the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection — that previously had not been linked together. A new law enacted earlier this year cleared up some lingering technical questions. "It was a little bit longer than envisioned by the leaders you see here today, but it happened and has now been activated," Pelka said.

He added that those with more-serious felony records have an avenue through the Board of Pardons and Paroles.

Lamont credited "the power of advocacy" in supporting the legislation, including the coalition of clergy in CONECT, the American Civil Liberties Union and others. "It's the right thing to do," he said, agreeing with Winfield's aspiration for providing better services before people run up against the law. "That's why we're here in a church," Lamont said. "We believe in redemption. That's something we've learned, especially in this religious season."

Lamont looked toward Caraballo and said that while she called it a Christmas present, clearing her name was something she earned. "I want to send that signal loud and clear that many of us make a mistake in life, we're held accountable, we come back, it's not a lifetime sentence," he said, before joining supporters at a green chalk board to symbolically erase some large numbers.

In all, 80,000 will have about 178,500 charges cleared over the next month, meaning that records will be marked for nondisclosure to all but court clerks. It will also automatically erase records going forward, Pelka highlighted. Another 28,752 erasures for operating under the influence, should be cleared by the end of March. Finally, another group of 62,364 convictions should be erased by June. Those cases before the year 2000 require direct petitions to the Judicial Branch by the formerly incarcerated. Convictions for sexual offenses and domestic violence are excluded from erasure.

(c)2023 the Connecticut Post (Bridgeport, Conn.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
TNS delivers daily news service and syndicated premium content to more than 2,000 media and digital information publishers.
From Our Partners