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Scrubbing the past to Give Those with a Criminal Record a Second Chance

NPR

By Eric Westervelt

Latosha Poston says she made a lot of mistakes in her life. Her legal troubles began in her teens after her first child was born in Indianapolis. Over the years, bad decisions led to some arrests, some convictions.

“Sometimes we get stuck in our past and let our past guide us,” she says.

The 44-year-old has worked hard to straighten out her life. But her criminal records — all involving misdemeanors — continued to haunt her as she tried to find a decent job and place to live.

Then, while watching the local news, she heard about Indiana’s Second Chance law, passed in 2013. It allows people to petition to remove their misdemeanor convictions and arrests from public view.

Indiana is among several states to change their approach to the restoration of a person’s rights and status after an arrest or conviction. In the last two years, more than 20 states have expanded or added laws to help people move on from their criminal records — most involve misdemeanors. Marijuana legalization and decriminalization have played a big role in driving these reforms. Fairness is another factor, with lawmakers from both parties rethinking the long-term consequences of certain criminal records, as well as the economic impact of mass incarceration.

There are also purely economic reasons to encourage the sealing of criminal records.

“It hurts communities, it hurts counties and it hurts states if their citizens cannot be productively employed or aren’t part of the tax base,” says American University law professor Jenny Roberts, who has written extensively on the collateral consequences of convictions. “So there’s certainly an economic incentive for allowing people to move beyond their criminal record.”

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