AGs call on Congress to fund modernization of state systems for sealing, expungement of criminal records
Virginia has been one of the nation’s least forgiving and most restrictive states for individuals who have earned the opportunity to have old convictions and charges expunged from their records.
While many other states have some form of a “Clean Slate” law, the Commonwealth is one of just 10 states that does not offer any sort of judicial “record closure” for any adult convictions, nor does it offer any automatic expungement for those who are eligible for expungement.
This means that a relatively minor charge or conviction, like marijuana or alcohol possession, can become a permanent stain that limits a Virginian’s job, educational, and housing opportunities.
Attorney General Mark R. Herring on Monday joined a bipartisan coalition of 22 attorneys general in urging Congress to provide federal funds for state systems and technology upgrades needed to seal and expunge criminal records.
During this year’s legislative session, the General Assembly passed automatic expungement legislation, undoing decades of incredibly restrictive and inaccessible expungement laws in the Commonwealth.
“In Virginia and in many states across the country, the process for sealing or expunging one’s record can be incredibly time consuming, cost-prohibitive, and just downright difficult – oftentimes because the necessary technology is outdated or unavailable,” Herring said. “For too long, we have allowed Virginians’ lives to be dictated by one mistake they made years ago, regardless of how they have changed, grown, or contributed to their communities in the interim. Now that we have these new expungement laws on the books in Virginia, putting federal funds towards upgrading the technology and systems needed to seal or expunge records will help to simplify the process and make it more accessible to all.”
These federal funds could help some of the nearly 70 million Americans – one third of U.S. adults – clear or expunge records of arrest or conviction. Research shows that automatic record clearing could regain billions in lost economic activity for eligible people by clearing the way for secondary education, job opportunities, professional licensing, and stable housing. It would also help children and families as 30 million U.S. children—almost one in two kids—have at least one parent with a criminal record.
Nearly every state has laws in place to seal or expunge certain arrest or conviction records for people who have demonstrated that they have been reformed. However, only a small fraction of eligible Americans are able to navigate the time-consuming, confusing, and expensive processes of getting their records expunged and/or sealed.
Herring and his colleagues are asking for the investment necessary to streamline record-sealing processes and make the justice system more cost-effective and fairer.