Author: Center for American Progress (CAP) | Date: 30 March 2021
Washington, D.C. — A year into the pandemic, a recovery plan to rebuild the economy must include women, who have been disproportionately
Implementing policies that will eliminate barriers to employment for justice-impacted individuals is a significant first step toward ensuring that women can successfully reenter society. Key practical, effective solutions that will help justice-impacted women establish economic security and successful futures for themselves and their families include:
Clean slate policies. Clearing a criminal record is among the most powerful tools for helping justice-impacted people move on with their lives and have a fair shot at employment, housing, and other basic pillars of economic stability. While most states allow people to petition to clear their records, only a small fraction of eligible individuals are able to successfully clear their records due to cost and complexity. “Clean slate” policies take the benefits of automatic record clearance to scale by allowing eligible people to have their records cleared regardless of whether or not they can afford a lawyer or navigate a complex court process. Record clearance helps prevent the discrimination and stigma against individuals that can stem from previous arrests or convictions.
In Pennsylvania, the first state to enact a clean slate law, more than 36 million cases were sealed in the first year of the law’s implementation, helping nearly 1 million Pennsylvanians clear their records. Clean slate policies—versions of which are now advancing in states across the United States and at the federal level—are important for all justice-impacted individuals, but especially for the growing number of women who face the challenges of a criminal record with even fewer reentry resources than their male counterparts.
Fair chance licensing laws. These laws prohibit restrictions that deny occupational licenses to individuals solely based on their criminal records, opening pathways for justice-impacted people to join licensed professions. Today, 1 in 4 jobs require an occupational license. Licensing restrictions can be particularly limiting for formerly incarcerated women, who disproportionately work in fields that are more regulated and therefore more likely to require certification or licensing, such as health care, child care, and education. As women-dominated professions continue to grow, even more job opportunities could be denied to justice-impacted women if measures are not put in place to alleviate the difficulties of obtaining a license or certification to work.
Ban the box and fair chance hiring policies. Fair chance hiring policies encompass all measures that prohibit record-based discriminatory practices and therefore help ensure people’s criminal records are not factored into employment decisions. Ban the box policies prohibit employers from asking applicants about their criminal history before an employment offer has been made, giving applicants with a record a better chance of being hired without the stigma of their past. As such, it can significantly reduce discriminatory actions that stem from the stigma of a criminal record.
“The pandemic has disproportionately pushed women—especially women of color—out of America’s workforce, adding additional challenges to achieving economic stability for women with a criminal record once they have reentered society,” said Akua Amaning, associate director for Criminal Justice Reform at the Center for American Progress and author of the issue brief. “As we look toward a post-pandemic era, now is an important moment to advance an equitable recovery agenda that includes supportive policies for all women. Clean Slate, fair chance licensing, and fair chance hiring policies are all actions rooted in justice reform that would help ensure that justice-impacted women face fewer barriers to quality job opportunities and are given a fair chance to build a successful future for themselves and their families.”
“Past mistakes should not deny people access to opportunities and employment that will help them do better in the future,” said Sheena Meade, managing director of the Clean Slate Initiative, a national organization that advocates for automatic record clearance in states. “Women and women of color in particular increasingly bear the brunt of bloated mass incarceration and overpolicing in our communities. The long-term impact is devastating on them and their families, sometimes for generations. Criminal records keep women in poverty and limit their access to jobs, housing, education, and other tools for economic mobility. That’s why record clearance is a critical remedy that must be included in the economic recovery so that everyone can get a fair chance at making ends meet, taking care of their families, and rebuilding the nation.”
“A Clean Slate in the Age of Coronavirus” by Rebecca Vallas and Sharon Dietrich
“5 Discussions That Shaped the Justice Reform Movement in 2020” by Kenny Lo, Sarah Figgatt, Betsy Pearl, and Chelsea Parsons