Racial Equity in Eligibility for a Clean Slate under Automatic Criminal Record Relief Laws

This research was conducted in partnership with the Possibility Lab.

JOURNAL PUBLICATION: Law and Society Review, August 2022: Racial Equity in Eligibility for a Clean Slate under Automatic Criminal Record Relief Laws
Pre-publication version

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.

The authors find that in California, one in five people with convictions met the criteria for full conviction relief under the state’s automatic relief laws. Yet the share of Black individuals eligible for this relief was lower than White individuals, which has the effect of reproducing racial disparities in criminal records.

This report identifies two policy amendments with the potential to reduce these disparities: (1) expand automatic relief to cases that require judicial review; and (2) add a seven-year sunset rule for all ineligible convictions, which would automatically clear all convictions after seven years of the sentence completion. If enacted, the authors estimate these policy amendments would reduce the share of Black men in California with convictions on their criminal records from 22% to 9%. There is currently a 15 percentage point difference between the share of Black men in California who have a criminal record versus the share of White men, and these changes would also narrow that difference to a seven percentage point difference.

This is a CPL-hosted project in partnership with the Possibility Lab which means that CPL provides the infrastructure (such as our Secure Data Hub) to make this project possible, however, the research team is ultimately responsible for the research design, methodology, and results.

Select Media Coverage
Wired: ‘Clean Slate’ Justice Laws Offer a Second Chance—Only to Some (July 10, 2022)

Suggested Citation
Mooney, A.C., Skog, A., Lerman, A.E. (2022). Racial Equity in Eligibility for a Clean Slate under Automatic Criminal Record Relief Laws. California Policy Lab. https://www.capolicylab.org/racial-equity-in-eligibility-for-a-clean-slate-under-automatic-criminal-record-relief-laws/



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