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Underscores growing support for national bipartisan initiative to automate clearing of criminal records, giving millions a fair shot at a second chance

WASHINGTON — The Clean Slate Initiative (CSI), a bipartisan national movement to automate the clearing of criminal records that block second chances for tens of millions of Americans, today announced the hire of Sheena Meade, a longtime social justice advocate and a leader of the successful campaign to restore voting rights to 1.4 million disenfranchised people in Florida, as Managing Director. This is the Initiative’s first full-time hire, and comes as CSI also announces new commitments from leading funders, including Arnold Ventures, Ballmer Group and the Justice and Mobility Fund — a collaboration between Blue Meridian Partners and the Ford Foundation with support from Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation. These new funders join the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI), which helped launch the Initiative in 2018.

Following decades of overcriminalization, between 70 million and 100 million Americans have some type of criminal record — nearly half of children in America have a parent with a record. In the digital era, with nearly 9 in 10 employers now using criminal background checks, any criminal record — no matter how old or minor — can be a life sentence to poverty. Tens of millions of these folks are eligible to have their records expunged or sealed in court. But the complex process for filing a record-clearing petition — not to mention the exorbitant legal costs — means the vast majority never get the relief they need.

“As a skilled campaigner who was instrumental in passing Amendment 4, the law which reinstated voting rights to people with criminal records in Florida in 2018 ― and as someone who is personally close to these issues ― Sheena is uniquely qualified to move the Clean Slate Initiative’s work forward at this critical moment,” said Jolene Forman, CZI’s Manager of Criminal Justice Policy and the Clean Slate Initiative’s advisory board chair. “For too long it has been far too difficult for people with criminal records to get their lives back on track, not only because of long-held stigmas, but also because of limited access to the very things that are critical to people leading productive lives ― jobs, education, housing and community support.”

“I know from experience how painful it can be to live with a criminal record. Watching my loved ones being held back because of old criminal records inspired me to find my purpose and passion: dismantling barriers for impacted people and their families,” said Sheena Meade, the Initiative’s new Managing Director. “In joining the Clean Slate Initiative, I am taking that pain and turning it into power. I’m honored to join this initiative, with a mission that is more important than ever. Together, we’ll continue building a movement to translate millions of those same pain points to create policies that will give millions of people a smoother path to find their own purposes and lead happier, healthier fuller lives.”

Clean slate policies provide an alternative to the outdated petition-based process and offer a technological solution: automated record-clearing for people who remain crime-free for a set period of time. Clean slate policies have already passed in Pennsylvania and Utah with overwhelming bipartisan support, and New Jersey has passed a measure that moves toward automated record clearing. In Pennsylvania alone, 33 million records have already been cleared thanks to this law, and bipartisan demand for this commonsense reform is growing.

As the country grapples with record unemployment amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it is especially critical that elected leaders enact policies like clean slate. This policy will help ensure an equitable and inclusive recovery and that people with criminal records — already particularly vulnerable to unemployment and job loss — are not left behind in an economic recovery. A 2018 analysis by the Prison Policy Initiative estimates that formerly incarcerated people were already facing an unemployment rate of over 27 percent — “higher than the overall U.S. unemployment rate during any historical period, including the Great Depression.” Before the COVID-19 pandemic forced state legislatures across the country to recess or adjourn, several states were considering clean slate proposals — and these are likely to be taken up again when work resumes.

“We are thrilled to welcome Sheena Meade as a leader of the Clean Slate Initiative at a critical moment in this growing bipartisan movement,” reads a joint statement from members of the Initiative’s Steering Committee, comprised of representatives from Center for American Progress, Code for America, the Crime and Justice Institute and the R Street Institute. “With her lifelong work to build long-term, sustainable change for communities, Sheena rounds out the diverse and deep skill sets across the Initiative and will help drive the success of these state and local efforts — leading to a better future for tens of millions of Americans.”

"Clean Slate represents hope and opportunity for people who have completed their sentences and stayed crime-free," said Amy Solomon, Vice President of Criminal Justice at Arnold Ventures. "In Pennsylvania alone, Clean Slate cleared records for one million people who have gone crime-free for 10 years. That's a million people who are now better positioned to get a job, support their families and contribute to their communities. Imagine the positive impact on individual lives and our economy when every state is a Clean Slate state.”

“We support the Clean Slate Initiative based on its potential to increase the economic stability and mobility of millions of Americans who have completed their sentences,” said Terri Ludwig, the President of Ballmer Group Philanthropy. “Clearing eligible criminal records swiftly helps these individuals, their families and our communities by opening pathways for them to pursue further education and secure stable jobs and housing.

“The Justice and Mobility Fund — a partnership of Blue Meridian Partners, the Ford Foundation and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation — is proud to support the Clean Slate Initiative to promote a clear pathway to economic mobility for millions of people with a criminal record,” said Mindy Tarlow, Managing Director, Portfolio Strategy & Management at Blue Meridian Partners. “We envision a country where opportunity is available to all people irrespective of a criminal record, and the work of the Clean Slate Initiative will help transform the life trajectories of people touched by the criminal justice system. In these unprecedented times, Clean Slate is more critical than ever to ensure an equitable recovery nationwide.”

“America is a land of second chances. And that applies to people who have made mistakes resulting in a criminal record. Given the impact a conviction has on employment, housing and education, providing a balanced mechanism to seal records is a moral imperative,” explained David Safavian, a Clean Slate Advisory Board member and General Counsel at the American Conservative Union Foundation. “By enacting clean slate policies, more justice-impacted people can secure jobs and support their families, which contributes to cutting crime, recidivism and the tax dollars spent on jail and prisons. Ultimately, if we are to do more than give lip-service to the idea of second chances, we must expand opportunities for automated expungement.”

“America is the land of second chances, and unfortunately criminal record history blocks millions of Americans from access to life’s most basic necessities, including employment, housing and public benefits. The Clean Slate Initiative, through expanded eligibility and automation of expungement remedies, is poised to make opportunity for second chances real for millions of our people,” said Daryl V. Atkinson, a Clean Slate Advisory Board member and Co-Director at Forward Justice. “With the addition of Sheena Meade as CSI Managing Director, the Initiative has selected a proven leader who embodies the personal transformation that CSI hopes to spur for over 70 million Americans.”

The Managing Director will work closely with a diverse set of partners to support state efforts to advance and implement clean slate policies across the country—including the Crime and Justice Institute; the American Conservative Union; Code for America; R Street Institute; Forward Justice; the Center for American Progress and Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, which co-developed the clean slate model; and others.

For more information, visit cleanslateinitiative.org.