At a packed press conference, Smart Justice leaders, people of faith from organizations like CONECT (Congregations Organized for a New Connecticut) and GHIAA (Greater Hartford Interfaith Action Alliance), and legislators spoke out in favor of strong Clean Slate legislation. Senator Gary Winfield and Representative Steven Stafstrom, Judiciary Committee co-chairs, also announced plans to introduce a committee Clean Slate proposal. Backed by signs with statistics from Smart Justice's recent poll of Connecticut voters' views about Clean Slate, Smart Justice leaders Tracie Bernardi, Marquita Reale, Sean Sellars, and Terri Ricks shared their perspectives on why the opportunity for a fresh start should extend to everyone.
The following are Tracie, Marquita, Sean, and Terri's remarks, as written.
My name is Tracie Bernardi, and I am an ACLU Smart Justice leader. When I was 19, I went to prison. I was released after serving 23 years. I have been back in society for less than five years. In the five years since my release, I have found how difficult it is to exist in a world where people are allowed to discriminate against their fellow human beings based solely on the fact that we have a criminal record. I have been denied apartments, I have been treated poorly at jobs, based on my record.
I am here today to call for a strong Clean Slate law.
If you ask yourself, why should we consider all felonies for Clean Slate? I am the reason why. If you do not give people like me, who have felonies, a chance at a Clean Slate, we will never have the opportunity to outlive our mistakes. I am not my mistakes. I believe a successful Clean Slate is one that does not discriminate or exclude. If Clean Slate discriminates, then it is guilty of doing the very thing that it’s trying to remedy: there should be no carve-outs. If a person has demonstrated successful reintegration, they should have a chance at a Clean Slate.
A strong Clean Slate law would also protect people from judgements by those who feel it’s their right to exclude people from society. If a person has their record erased, it doesn’t mean its erased from history or individuals’ memories. When someone’s crime is expunged and does come to light, anyone who discriminates against them after the fact should be held accountable.
If my slate was wiped clean, and no one was allowed to use my record against me, then I would know that whatever goals I set forth for myself, would be attainable to me. With a criminal record, there is no stability.
We want to plant our feet firmly in society. And without sustainable employment and without a fair opportunity to not be discriminated against, the prison doors are going to keep revolving.
Please don’t confuse a Clean Slate with deciding whether a person is guilty of a crime and should punished, the punishment for all people who have been released was over at the end of their sentence.
Removing the stain of a criminal record should be an option for everyone. I call on the legislature to pass the strongest Clean Slate law possible, one that has no carve-outs and one that holds discriminators accountable.
My name is Marquita Reale, I am a Smart Justice leader, a training barber trying to start my own business, and a mom.
Clean slate, with anti-discrimination protections, will help me and people in my community to try and build a foundation where we can grow. Too many times, people from our community, with degrees, certificates, and/or licenses are unable to provide for their families in the way that they should be able to, because of their records. I now, often see this in my home and barbering community. A record alone shouldn’t be the only reason we can’t progress.
If the Clean Slate act was here, that would be one less hurdle to hop over.
If you are trying and doing the work, you should be able to start seeing results. Isn’t that what America is about? If you can’t put your skills to work because of your record, it is very discouraging.
When I worked in an office, they would let me know that they knew I had a record. That’s when I knew I wouldn’t be able to progress there. I have heard, “you’re qualified, but because you have a felony, we won’t hire you.”
You shouldn’t be able to judge people based on their record. Clean Slate would help people have something to look forward to. People coming out of prison, at least they would know that record was not going to be there forever. That the day would come when they wouldn’t be judged for their record.
Clean Slate should include felonies. Misdemeanors is not enough. Everybody deserves that light at the end of the tunnel.
My name is Sean Sellars, I am a Smart Justice leader. Mass incarceration adversely affects every man, woman, and child. We have over 2 million people incarcerated on any given day in the United States. This is a mass incarceration juggernaut unprecedented in human history.
I am part of the face of mass incarceration, and I have had problems reintegrating back into society.
95 percent of people who are incarcerated will return home to society. In Connecticut, they will face over 500 barriers and collateral consequences that cripple their ability to successfully reintegrate into the community, now is the time to pass a comprehensive Clean Slate bill that speaks to these issues.
This goes to the very foundation of the American ideal of liberty and freedom.
With a U.S. prison system that currently imprisons more people than the gulags of Stalin in post-revolutionary Russia, it is imperative that this Clean Slate bill be as comprehensive and inclusive of as many people as possible.
A strong Clean Slate would protect our communities. Giving formerly incarcerated people the chance to have a clean slate helps to reduce crime by enabling them to get jobs, support themselves and their families, and become contributing members of society, which also makes it less likely that they will reoffend.
For years, we have heard that people with a record should be held accountable, and that means Connecticut’s Clean Slate law should include a way to hold people accountable if they discriminate against someone based on their criminal history.
Clean Slate should also include everyone.
If Clean Slate does these two things, it will mean a brand new day for everyone who has experienced perpetual poverty due to crimes committed years ago, including communities of color who are disproportionately harmed.
As we look forward to the future, let us in Connecticut ensure that those who have completed their time, served their sentence, and paid their debt to society are able to live and thrive, not just survive from hand to mouth. Connecticut says it is a leader in criminal justice reform, and a strong Clean Slate law is a way to be that.
My name is Terri Ricks, I am a Smart Justice leader, and I served my country for six years in the United States army.
As someone with a felony record, I feel like I’ve had to live as a fugitive my whole life. As a 56-year-old woman, not having an apartment in my name, never being able to vote, never being on the census, has impacted my life in the most negative ways.
As a leader of Smart Justice, I am in complete agreement with the Clean Slate bill with no carve outs along with including anti-discrimination protections.
As a formerly incarcerated woman, with the barriers that I kept facing, I had to make a choice to help my mother, a single woman and mother of ten, to put food on the table and clothes on our backs.
That’s not who I am or was, but before I or my siblings went hungry, with most legal options closed to me, I did the best thing that I could do. Not to say that it was right, but it was necessary.
Until legislation gives us the opportunity to right our wrongs and get a second chance with the Clean Slate bill, we will be looked at as invisible and not as the changed people we have become.
I have been a productive citizen since 2005, that’s 14 years of not even a ticket. I developed my own clothing line, and still cannot get an LLC to be an entrepreneur, not only for me but to show the community that I came from that they have hope.
I would like Clean Slate to afford each and every person the chance to be the best person that they can be, and continue to grow and support our communities in the way that we can. We call on the legislature to pass the strongest Clean Slate law possible.