A criminal record of any kind is a potential barrier to everything from housing to employment to credit. Though applicants may be able to explain away misdemeanors, those with felony records face a much tougher road. The challenges that these individuals face, and the social problems that may develop as a result, have led to the activism and awareness that has prompted the passage of "ban the box" laws in many states.
For those who have served their time, living with a felony record can make it seem as though the sentence never truly ends. Banning the box only delays an employer or landlord's consideration of a criminal history report until later in the vetting process. A late-stage discovery of a felony charge could still contribute to a disqualification, even if the applicant may hear an unrelated reason for their denial.
Many states have taken additional steps to help nonviolent felons by expanding access to criminal record expungement. Once expunged, a conviction will not be visible to employers, even those using advanced reporting products such as the US OneSEARCH by backgroundchecks.com. Georgia is the latest state to move towards the adoption of expanded criteria for expungement.
In a state where 40% of citizens, nearly half of the population, has a criminal record, the effects of the coronavirus have been particularly economically devastating. According to the Georgia Justice Project, the unemployment rate for this segment of the population peaked at nearly 15%.
Those who have lost their jobs now find that it is even tougher to get back into the job market. Not only does uncertainty surrounding the pandemic make some businesses wary of hiring, but applicants’ criminal records create another barrier that they must break.
Both houses of the Georgia legislature passed the Second Chance law after vigorous advocacy from all sides. Prosecutors, criminal justice reform proponents, and affected individuals all voiced strong support for the measure. Even significant businesses, such as Atlanta-headquartered Coca-Cola, threw their support behind it. It requires only the signature of Gov. Brian Kemp to become law.
Under the new rules, individuals would have to live crime-free for three years for misdemeanors and five years for felonies. Only nonviolent crimes are eligible for expungement. Individuals may then petition a judge to consider their expungement request. Unlike other states, Georgia will allow for judges to consider objections from victims before ruling on an expungement request. If granted, the conviction will vanish from the individual's record.
The bill received bipartisan assent with a stated desire from legislators to help those most affected by the pandemic find solid ground again. With COVID-19 creating disruptions on both sides, Georgia hopes to provide a clearer path back to business for employers and job seekers.
Expungement laws vary from state to state, and many applicants may not know that they are eligible for a clean slate. Through our sister service MyClearStart, individuals can assess their eligibility and connect with legal assistance to learn how to take the next step.