What Might a National Expungement Strategy Look Like?

There is now pretty wide bi-partisan and multi-regional agreement that we have to make the re-entry of the convicted into society much easier, and that expunging prior criminal records will be an important part of this initiative.

While lots of people are working on expungement, and there is at least one great local model (PA)

We really have no national strategy, indeed, not even a list of the elements that such a strategy might include.  So, to help start the discussion, here is a beginning list of such elements.

  • A model statute that states might be encouraged to adopt.  Given the range of politics relating to this issue, I would suggest that the model statute have two sections, a procedural section, dealing with how applications are processed, and a substantive one dealing with what kind of cases get automatic expungement, which ones require application, but are automatically granted, and which ones require discretionary decision making.
  • Model, and perhaps national, software which would allow self-represented application for expungement.  Ideally this would be built to interact automatically with e-filing and caseflow management software.
  • These would have to be multi-lingual
  • Grants to states for implantation of such changes, including self-help services, software implementation, and community outreach.
  • Grants to community-based legal aid programs to provide help and representation in the more complex cases.
  • Various forms of support to courts in states that want to follow New York and simply make the decision not to report out certain kinds of criminal situations beyond the legal system.
  • Research on the impact of broader expungement.  New York is already providing a natural experiment, and other states that deploy in other ways will provide similar opportunities.

Quite apart from the obvious human value of such an initiative, it could also be an excellent driver of much closer cooperation between the civil and criminal sides.  Another opportunity for ATJ Commissions.  This might also be an ideal area for DOJ, including the Access Initiative, to take a major leadership role.


About richardzorza

I am deeply involved in access to justice and the patient voice movement.
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