Kenyan McDuffie
**FILE** Kenyan McDuffie (Roy Lewis/The Washington Informer)

District Councilman Kenyan McDuffie wants to give ex-offenders a clean slate.

In legislation that’s not unlike what lawmakers in Pennsylvania passed in 2018 and went into effect last month, McDuffie has introduced the District of Columbia Clean Slate Amendment Act of 2019, which would expand the ability for ex-offenders to have their records sealed after a period of three years for qualifying misdemeanor convictions and seven years for qualifying felony convictions.

McDuffie’s proposal would amend the definition of the “completion of sentence” to clarify that failure to pay fines and fees does not count towards the completion of a sentence.

The bill would also amend the definition of eligible felonies to include certain nonviolent offenses and it would require the automatic sealing of non-convictions, eligible misdemeanors, and eligible felonies after a certain period of time.

The bill also would shift the burden of proof for record sealing from the individual to the prosecution — a major change that could ease any difficulties in the process of sealing a conviction.

“Approximately 77 million Americans, or 1 in every 3 adults, have a criminal record and a criminal record — which can be an arrest record, criminal charges, or a conviction — creates barriers to jobs, occupational licensing, housing and higher education opportunities,” McDuffie said.

Last month, Pennsylvania became the first state in the nation to automatically seal some criminal records via technology.

Under that state’s new Clean Slate law, the courts have until June 27, 2020, to finish sealing all of the cases. Top lawmakers said the law is aimed at reducing the stigma that those with criminal records face when seeking employment, education and a place to live.

In all, approximately 30 million cases in Pennsylvania are eligible under the new law which means half the cases in the state’s database will be sealed including those for most retail thefts and first-time drunken driving convictions.

“So many people have done what was legally required of them, but have been unable to become fully productive citizens again,” Pennsylvania state Rep. Jordan Harris said when passing the legislation.

“Taking this movement nationwide will improve the economy, create jobs and provide hope to those who had a criminal conviction from decades past and have turned their lives around,” he said.

It’s exactly what McDuffie wants to see in the District.

The councilman cited from U.S. Census Bureau statistics which revealed that African Americans and Hispanics comprise about 32 percent of the U.S. population but 56 percent are incarcerated or going through some form of correctional supervision.

“Criminal records contribute to generations of poverty and increases the likelihood of recidivism,” McDuffie said.

“This is because on the other end, when our brothers and sisters return home, they are often not met with the opportunities they need to reengage,” he said.

“This legislation will help people with criminal records get their lives back on track and reduce the stigma they face when looking for employment and housing and it says to our larger community, to the residents of the District, that we believe in your capacity to change and we welcome you home,” McDuffie said.

Stacy M. Brown is a senior writer for The Washington Informer and the senior national correspondent for the Black Press of America. Stacy has more than 25 years of journalism experience and has authored...

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