Around 30% of South Carolinians have a criminal record with consequences that could follow them the rest of their lives…affecting employment, housing, and other opportunities essential to productive citizenship.
SC Appleseed has long been an advocate for reducing barriers to opportunity facing all South Carolinians, regardless of their background. This Wednesday, SC Appleseed will give testimony before a newly formed Expungement Study Committee for the state of South Carolina — an effort to examine the current state of expungement laws in SC and to have an open discussion on possible changes that need to be made to address the post-conviction side of criminal justice reform.
In recent years, there has been a political shift, both nationally and locally, in how lawmakers think about the criminal justice system and the economic and social impact of mass incarceration.
National studies estimate about one in four people in the United States have an arrest or conviction record. This number is far from insignificant. A criminal record often creates significant barriers to gainful employment, safe and affordable housing, family unification, and a variety of other benefits and opportunities essential to productive citizenship (see: Appleseed’s Collateral Consequences manual).
There is no question that having a criminal record has an enormous and often lifelong impact on an individual. Based on the sheer number of people with a criminal record, the economic impact on society as a whole is staggering.
These issues have garnered the attention of a number of groups. The conservative policy organization, Right on Crime, has addressed criminal justice reform by looking at the economic impact of the criminal justice system and the costs to government as well as society. President Obama has launched an initiative called My Brother’s Keeper to address persistent opportunity gaps faced by boys and young men of color and ensure that all young people can reach their full potential, in part to respond to the School to Prison Pipeline.
Our elected representatives in Washington have taken notice, and in early July introduced the REDEEM Act (Record Expungement Designed to Enhance Employment Act of 2014), a bipartisan expungement bill that would, among other things, provide for sealing or expunging records relating to Federal nonviolent criminal offenses.
Our lawmakers in South Carolina have taken notice of these impacts and has been actively making changes to address the economic impacts of the criminal justice system. In 2010, South Carolina implemented a series of changes in the Omnibus Crime Reduction and Sentencing Reform Act, which already has and will continue to save South Carolina millions of dollars in criminal justice costs.
While the Omnibus Crime Reduction and Sentencing Reform Act did a lot for front-end criminal justice reform, we still need to look at what happens to people after they complete their sentences. The South Carolina Legislature has formed an Expungement Study Committee to examine the current state of the expungement laws in South Carolina and to have an open discussion on possible changes that need to be made to address the post-conviction side of criminal justice reform.
SC Appleseed Legal Justice Center has a number of recommendations to make and will be testifying at the next Expungement Study Committee meeting. We would encourage anyone interested in these issues to attend the meeting, and let your voice be heard alongside ours.