Some Connecticut lawmakers want to automatically erase the criminal records of those who haven’t reoffended after a set time period. They say the penalty people pay when they commit a crime goes beyond the time services and becomes a life-sentence keeping them from finding good jobs and a safe place to live.
“I’ve had to be harassed by people once they find out I have a record,” said Dawn Grant-Lockley of Stratford.
Grant-Lockley has been out of prison for 22 years and earned a master’s degree in Social work from Columbia University.
“It’s on my resume and they don’t care. They look at the fact that I was incarcerated,” she said.
She now runs her own clinical social work office, but has been denied a pardon all four times she’s applied to the State Board of Pardons and Parole.
Rogsbert King of Bridgeport applied for a pardon after her crack cocaine conviction came back to haunt her when she applied for a job three decades later.
“They sent me my conviction record that dated back to 1987,” she recalled.
After successfully getting her record cleared she’s working with Congregations Organized for a New Connecticut to help others struggling to move beyond their criminal pasts.
“Could you imagine if every time you meet somebody five, 10, 15 years down the road they bring that bad thing you did up? That’s just not fair,” said Rep. Robyn Porter, (D) New Haven.
Porter said she supports the “clean slate” bill, which seeks to automatically erase Class C & D felonies, including second-degree manslaughter and burglary from a person’s record after 12 years. All classes of misdemeanors would be expunged after seven years. Sex and domestic violence-related crimes would not be eligible for the program.
“If it wasn’t a life sentence going in it shouldn’t be a life sentence going out,” Porter said.
Governor Ned Lamont’s administration submitted its own bill, which tackles the lowest level of misdemeanors and drug possession crimes.
“Motor vehicle violations, driving with a suspended license, not being up to date with your paperwork,” said Marc Pelka, the undersecretary of Criminal Justice Policy and Planning.
Pelka called it a first step that can be implemented on day one, explaining that the automatic erasure of certain crimes requires the investment of a new computer system.
“I like the general concept but I think both bills are overreaches,” said Rep. Craig Fishbein, (R) Wallingford.
“We have folks that have been home for 10, 15, 30, 40 years and they still cannot get housing,” said Porter. “These records actually haunt them for the rest of their life.”
“I think housing should be an issue at some level. If somebody is convicted of a sex offense involving a minor let’s say, and a landlord is potentially going to rent to them an upstairs apartment from a family that’s downstairs. That’s something the landlord should definitely be able to look at,” said Fishbein.
Although the broader clean slate proposal doesn’t include sex crimes, Fishbein pointed out what he sees as another oversight in the bill.
“You could have somebody who was arrested for something like that and you could plead down to a different charge so certainly the record would not reflect that,” he said.
Fishbein said that the bills don’t take into account a criminal record in another state. He doesn't believe erasing a criminal record should be left up to a computer system. He wants more oversight.
“Why is it fair to just erase these records without having the Board of Pardons and Paroles review their criminal record?” said Fishbein.
Currently, you can apply to the Pardon and Parole Board three years after your conviction of a misdemeanor and five years after a felony.
Grant-Lockey doesn’t believe that system is working. She said she’s been denied four times by the state pardon board.
She declined to share what she was imprisoned for, but admitted neither bill would erase her criminal convictions.
“I’m not fighting for it for me. I’ve applied, I’ve been denied. I’m not planning on applying again. The experience for me has been extremely traumatic,” she said.