State lawmakers, in their desire to pass a significant piece of legislation before they leave Albany for the next six months, are about to rush though a bill that will have significant long-term impacts on the public.
Before they vote for a plan to automatically seal the criminal conviction records of many criminals, including felons, they need to step back and make sure they’ve considered all possible consequences.
It’s clear from the latest version of the so-called New York Clean Slate bill that they haven’t, and that they need to take more time to fix it.
We recognize the stigma of having a past criminal conviction. And we understand the challenges these individuals face when trying to find employment or housing.
We also understand that there are benefits to society when these individuals are able to put their pasts behind them and move forward with their lives unimpeded by their criminal records.
We also know the current bill contains safeguards to prevent sealing of records for sex crimes and murders, and that law enforcement and businesses requiring background checks will have access to the records.
But we also support the public’s right to access government information that could affect their lives.
What lawmakers are glossing over in their rush to demonstrate their compassion for adult criminals is the impact that sealing records could have on others who encounter these individuals.
As we’ve said in past editorials, shouldn’t businesses have a right to know if a potential employee has a record of embezzlement or fraud or theft?
Shouldn’t a company with jobs that involve driving be able to find out if the individual has been convicted of DWI or been in a serious auto accident or has a history of driving recklessly?
Shouldn’t a landlord be able to find out if a potential tenant has ever been convicted of harassment or burglary before allowing that person to live in their building?
Shouldn’t a person considering dating someone be able to look up whether that person has a history of physical violence or criminal drug and alcohol abuse?
Would you want a convicted animal abuser working in your kennel or veterinarian’s office?
And how fair is it to the victims of these individuals’ crimes that their perpetrator can, at some point, just pretend they’ve never committed the crime while the victims still deal with the fallout?
As one Long Island prosecutor pointed out in an op-ed in Wednesday’s edition of Huntington Now, the sealing could lead to an increase in crime at a time when New Yorkers are already on edge.
He said the bill negates tougher penalties imposed for certain crimes. He noted that convicted criminals already have the right to apply to have their records sealed (but often don’t). And he said judges already have discretion to seal some criminal records. So why do this?
We’ve seen when well-intentioned politicians rush through crime legislation without examining the full picture. It doesn’t end well.
This won’t either.
Before they agree to seal more criminal records, lawmakers need to vote no and take more time to consider all the consequences of their action.