Delaware advocates lobby to get criminal records expunged

DELAWARE – April marks Second Chance Month and now advocates are lobbying at Legislative Hall in support of expunging criminal records in Delaware.

“One of the greatest moments of my life and I wasn’t able to come,” said Pastor Tony Neal.

Pastor Tony Neal wasn’t able to attend his son’s air force graduation because he was in and out of prison. “It means so much to me because I take it personally because just last year I was granted my Delaware expungement, it’s been over 30 years. I’ve been doing all the right things, pastoring ministering raising a family but still had this on my record. But a few years ago my son went to the Air Force and graduated from the Air Force and I wasn’t allowed to go because of my prison record and I think that was very hurtful. That’s a moment I will never get back.”

That’s why he spent Tuesday lobbying for legislators to give individuals the same second chance that he had. Which could be possible with proposed legislation. “Delaware ensuring that it successfully implements its landmark clean slate bill that was passed in 2021. We need to remove some of the barriers to implementation and to people accessing expungement,” says John Reynolds, with the American Civil Liberties Union of  Delaware.

Nearly 400,000 Delawareans have a record that may be eligible for expungement. Without this legislation, advocates say people who may have been charged but not convicted of a crime may lose out on the opportunity for what many consider basic necessities. “We feel that those people shouldn’t have to keep those records or those cases on their record because employers can still see them landlords can still see them and although it’s. A non-conviction can still negatively impacts someone’s ability to obtain a job or housing,” says Kailyn Richards, the Director of Policy for the Delaware Center for Justice.

On Tuesday, Reverend Rita Paige was on the ground educating lawmakers on why a second chance is needed. “It’s been great today, going into their offices and sitting down and meeting them, and just pleading our case, and them listening to us and then sometimes they will have questions for us so it’s an interesting dialogue because we get to talk one on one. We need to get those barriers removed so people can continue their quality of life, ” she said.

This effort doesn’t come without opposition. John Reynolds, Campaign Manager for Clean Slate Delaware says courts may have issues accessing records after they are expunged. “Courts have fines and fees to record and if those records are clear or expunged then they may still have fines and fees attached to them then the court may have logistical concerns.”

Pastor Neal calls this a needed piece of legislation because, without it, thousands of futures could be at stake. “It’s important to let the community know how important this is because if you got things on your record you not gonna go nowhere.”

Lawmakers plan to file the bills before June. Meanwhile, advocates say the legislation will also lessen the work done in the courts by simplifying the process they have to implement. With these records expunged an individual’s income could go up by 20%, meaning more money to reintegrate into society and support their loved ones.

Some states happen to be further along than others but that’s not stopping legislators from expanding these networks. The CEO of the Clean Slate Initiative says she’s received good feedback, no matter the political party. “Right now we’re working in states from New York to Texas to Michigan making sure that automatic record clearances is a reality for people. Second chances is an issue and record clearance is an issue that everyone can get behind because it’s beyond politics it’s about people and we’ve been seeing a lot of bipartisan support,” Sheena Meade said.

The CEO says people are not defined by their records. Michigan will be implementing its Clean Slate initiatives next week. For more information about the Clean Slate initiative, you can visit their website. 

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