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A Record Shouldn’t be a Life Sentence to Poverty: How CSI’s Work Reduces Hunger Through Automatic Record Clearance

Reginald Darby, Federal Legislative Director, The Clean Slate Initiative

Poverty and hunger are intertwined — woven threads that can’t be untangled. In order to address hunger, we must address poverty, and the underlying causes that keep people stuck in its grasp.

There is one contributing factor to poverty that’s often overlooked: being saddled with an arrest or conviction record, which can have devastating impacts, often for decades or longer. Fortunately, there’s a powerful tool to help fight the cycle of poverty: automatic record clearance and eligibility expansions through Clean Slate policies. That’s where The Clean Slate Initiative comes in.

The Clean Slate Initiative (CSI) is a national nonprofit organization built upon a bipartisan policy model. We pass and implement laws that automatically clear eligible records for people who have completed their sentence and remained crime-free, and we expand who is eligible for clearance. Our aim is for people to no longer be defined by their records and to have the opportunity to contribute to their community, have a fair opportunity to work, get an education, and achieve their full potential.

Our work with broad coalitions to pass laws in states and Congress is done through an integrated advocacy program combining lobbying, coalition building, marketing and communications, organizing, and policy research. To date, 12 states have passed Clean Slate laws that meet CSI’s policy minimums, including Michigan, which saw roughly one million people gain relief on the very first day of their state law’s implementation. We have also moved forward two important federal Clean Slate bills in Congressional committees.

People living with a record face countless barriers that hinder their ability to break free from the chains of poverty and oftentimes hunger — including obstacles to some of the most important avenues for climbing out of poverty: employment, housing, and education. 

Employment opportunities are limited because 94% of employers run background checks to screen applicants. Housing is hard to find, because 90% of landlords run a background check before they’ll rent to someone. Even the prospect of “moving up” through education becomes a huge mountain when you have a record, because 72% of colleges and universities run background checks, too. Many employers conduct background checks during the hiring process.

One in three people in the United States— about 70 to 100 million people — have some kind of record, the majority of them for arrests, acquittals and non-violent misdemeanors like minor drug possession. The sheer number of people who are impacted by these barriers to employment, housing, and education helps feed into the larger cycle of poverty by contributing to high unemployment rates, unstable living conditions, and a lack of opportunities for personal or professional growth.

Clean Slate policies are a way to help break the cycle of poverty. When we offer people a shot at redemption, we offer them a better chance at a full plate.

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