[On April 21, 2021, Smart Justice, with leaders from CONECT (Congregations Organized for a New Connecticut) and GHIAA (Greater Hartford Interfaith Action Alliance), held a press conference today to call on the legislature to pass the strongest Clean Slate bill possible in 2021. Together, they called on the legislature to pass S.B. 1019, to include as many people as possible in that bill, and to ensure that the bill continues to include protections to prevent discrimination on the basis of someone’s erased record. At that physically distanced, masked, outdoor rally, Smart Justice leader Shelby Henderson delivered the following speech.]
Good morning, my name is Shelby Henderson; I am a Smart Justice Leader with the ACLU of Connecticut. I am currently in my first year of law school at the City University of New York School of Law and I am a former John Jay College of Criminal Justice Tow Policy Fellow. I am a formerly incarcerated person.
To some this may sound like an exception, however, I stand on the shoulders on giants! There are many who came before me and thousands who will come after me. The truth is I was given an opportunity. In 2018 I was given a pardon from the Connecticut board of pardons and parole. It is important to note that this is a rare exception to the rule and very difficult to accomplish.
This immediately allowed me to move from my mother’s basement and into an apartment of my choice. I was finally able to enroll into a university with the ease of no questions being asked about my record. Above all I now qualified for a host of jobs that would afford me the opportunity to earn a living wage.
The push for clean slate is a push for human rights! We are urging our legislators to dismantle the perpetual discrimination against people with a criminal record. We are asking for access to basic human rights like education, housing, and simply an opportunity to earn a livable wage.
Senate Bill 1019 will benefit not just people with records, but all of Connecticut. Additionally, this will begin the long overdue process of dismantling the systemic racism that exists in the criminal legal system.
I believe in accountability. I believe in an accountable Connecticut. Let me explain what that really means. I believe in a Connecticut that does not perpetually lock individuals out of the job market. Frankly put, I believe in a Connecticut that does not deny people housing simply due to their criminal record. I believe in a state that does not discriminate against people for their criminal record.
In Connecticut, having a criminal record essentially equates to a lifetime of blocked opportunities. The scarlet curse, of a neverending barrier excluding individuals from access to the very things necessary to be self-sufficient and meaningfully contribute to our communities. Ultimately, locking people into a permanent underclass.
When a person has served their time, they deserve a chance to move on with their life, and it is the duty of this state to ensure that people will not have to face endless punishment and discrimination.
I believe in a Connecticut where all people, including those who have been convicted of a crime, have an equal opportunity to contribute to society and build successful and fulfilling lives.
I’m here because I believe everyone who has completed their sentence has earned the right to move on with their life without the shadow of a criminal record hanging over them for the rest of their life.
There are a lot of misconceptions about the differences between felonies and misdemeanors and class A’s and class B. This can lead to the exclusion of people from the Clean Slate bill. Just remember that we are talking about basic but fundamental rights.
In reality, people can turn and do turn their lives around and become productive members of society.
Locking people in a permanent underclass only perpetuates harm and makes us all less safe.
To me Clean Slate means public safety. Providing people with a chance at opportunity and hope builds public safety. Clean Slate is about providing a light at the end of the tunnel.
We need to change our system. We need a Clean Slate. Members of the Connecticut General Assembly, our communities need you to pass the strongest and most inclusive Clean Slate bill possible so that everyone in our state has a fair chance at living a fulfilling life.