[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 Donald Rivers delivered the following speech.]
Good morning everyone, my name is Donald Rivers and I am a Smart Justice Leader with the ACLU of Connecticut. Much more importantly, I’m a parent. Just before my second child was born, 20 years ago, I was arrested and pled guilty to a crime. I completed my sentence and have not had any further issues with the criminal legal system, but for the past 15 years I have faced discrimination based on that conviction every day of my life. I have been rejected from jobs because of my record, been denied advancement because of my record, and even been fired - not because of anything having to do with my work performance, but only due to that record from 20 years ago. And for a long time I was forced to settle for less than I deserved, but what I refuse to accept any longer is that I have not been able to give my children the life she that they deserve due to the collateral consequences of my record. I’m not just here fighting for a Clean Slate for myself.
I’m here fighting for my daughter and all the people, the family members and loved ones and communities that have been held down, held back and denied opportunity because of an oppressive system that is all about endless punishment and turning people into second class citizens.
The barriers associated with a record can have ripple effects for generations. Nearly half of U.S. children now have at least one parent with a criminal record. A Connecticut resident who has a criminal conviction faces more than 500 legal barriers to full integration into society, including barriers to finding a job, licensures, housing and more. People living with a criminal record are more likely to face unemployment, homelessness, poverty and early death. It does not have to be like this. We can have a future where all people in Connecticut are allowed to reach their full potential. Preliminary research finds that a year after a record is erased, people are 11% more likely to be employed and earning 22% higher wages. Senate Bill 1019 is a major step to achieving that goal.
This should not be a controversial proposal. People who have completed their sentences have completed their sentences. 85% of Connecticut voters agree that people who have served their sentences should have a fair shot at getting their lives back on track without having that sentence held against them. Almost two-thirds of Connecticut voters say it is important for Connecticut to pass a law that automatically erases criminal records and prevents discrimination, which is why it is critical that SB 1019 includes anti-discrimination protections so that people do not continue to be discriminated against even though their records are erased.
We believe that a person’s ability to move beyond their past, stay on the right track and be able to support themselves and their family should not depend on what type of conviction is on their record. Clean Slate should include ALL PEOPLE, regardless of their offense. We are fighting for the strongest Clean Slate bill possible so that more people and their families are able to have a fair chance at thriving.
Thank you for listening and for being here today.