Gusciora, Green, Coutinho and Watson Coleman Bills Aim to Help Nonviolent Offenders Avoid Recidivism and Become Productive Members of Society
(TRENTON) – An Assembly panel on Monday advanced two separate Democratic measures that would allow the automatic expungement of criminal records of nonviolent offenders in certain situations.
The first bill (A-355), sponsored by Assembly members Reed Gusciora, Jerry Green and Albert Coutinho, would automatically expunge a person’s criminal record under certain circumstances.
The second bill (A-2829), sponsored by Assembly members Jerry Green and Bonnie Watson Coleman, would automatically expunge the criminal record of nonviolent drug offenders who have completed New Jersey’s drug court program.
The bills would not affect crimes with an absolute bar to expungement.
The first bill (A-355) would eliminate the requirement that a petition must be filed by the person seeking the expungement. Instead, an expungement would be automatically provided to the person once the requisite amount of time has lapsed since the conviction, provided the conviction appears in a criminal history record maintained by the state police. In addition to authorizing automatic expungement, the bill reduces the statutory waiting periods for the expungement of records for various crimes. To see the reduced statutory waiting periods proposed under the bill, click here.
“A criminal record can be an extended prison sentence. A person who has paid his or her debt to society should have the opportunity to make a better life for themselves,” said Gusciora (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). “We’re not talking about hardened criminals, but people who, given the resources, could become productive members of society. Making the expungement process simpler in these specific cases would help facilitate their transition and help avoid a relapse into criminal activity.”
“Job prospects today are scarce as it is. Having a criminal record makes the prospects of finding employment that much more difficult,” said Green (D-Union/Middlesex/Somerset). “These individuals have served their time. Many of them will return to the communities where they lived prior to incarceration. It makes sense to give them the opportunity to become contributing members of society not just for their sake, but for the sake of the communities they are rejoining.”
“Bad habits can be hard to break, especially if you feel like you have no other options. Many people with criminal records revert to their old ways because of the difficulty they face in finding a job, renting an apartment or getting an education,” said Coutinho (D-Essex). “Simplifying the expungement process and reducing some of the statutory waiting periods will help keep these individuals from falling back, and spare taxpayers from the would-be expense of reincarceration.”
The second bill (A-2829) would grant automatic expungement to certain individuals who have completed a sentence to a term of special probation, commonly referred to as the drug court program.
“This bill is about second chances. A criminal record can make it difficult to get a job, an apartment and may even impact financial aid eligibility,” said Green (D-Union/Middlesex/Somerset). “The justice system thought these offenders would be better served by treatment rather than prison. This bill continues that support, by giving individuals who have gone through and completed the program the chance to start over and do right without a criminal record holding them back.”
To qualify for automatic expungement, the person cannot have been convicted of any prior crime or have been adjudged a disorderly person or petty disorderly person on more than two prior occasions; the conviction cannot be for any of the crimes that are ineligible for expungement; and the person cannot have had a previous criminal conviction expunged regardless of the lapse of time between the prior expungement and the completion of the sentence of special probation.
No petition would be required and no fee could be charged for a grant of automatic expungement. Currently, there is a $30 processing fee attached to the petition application.
“It’s hard enough to find a job in this economy without a criminal record. Why not give these low-level offenders the opportunity to become productive members of our society?” asked Watson-Coleman (D-Mercer). “We’re not talking about murderers and rapists; we’re talking about nonviolent drug offenders who have undergone rigorous treatment. Rather than invest in policies that might lead to recidivism and end up costing the state more in incarceration costs, let’s invest in their recovery.”
The bills were released by the Assembly Judiciary Committee.