Washington State Helps Former Felons Ditch Their Records

By: - July 29, 2019 12:00 am

A person walks into a shelter in Atlanta. Cities and counties including Atlanta are experimenting with creative ways to prevent homelessness among people who have been in jail or prison. A person walks into a homeless shelter. People who have been in jail or prison often end up homeless or have a hard time finding work. A new law in Washington state will make it easier for former offenders to have their criminal record erased. The law is intended to ease reentry into society for the formerly incarcerated. Robert Ray/The Associated Press

In Washington state, formerly incarcerated people who’ve turned their lives around have a chance to wipe their records clean, thanks to a new law that went into effect Sunday.

The “New Hope Act,” which lawmakers passed unanimously in April, shortens the time it takes to expunge felonies and expands the number and types of crimes former felons can clear from their records.

The expungements are not automatic. Former offenders still will need to petition a court to vacate convictions.

The law is meant to ease reentry for people after they’ve been released from prison or jail and to prevent recidivism. Nationwide, an estimated 68% of released prisoners were arrested within three years, 79% within six years, and 83% within nine years, according to the National Institute of Justice.

“People who have spent some time in prison need a chance to get their lives back on track,” the bill’s sponsor, Democratic state Rep. Drew Hanson, said in a statement. “This bill removes some of the barriers that are preventing people from rebuilding their lives and gives them hope for a second chance.”

Former offenders must have completed all requirements of their sentences, including financial obligations such as court fees and probation costs.

Certain crimes are not eligible for expungement, such as crimes against a police officer or involving a deadly weapon.

For those who’ve been locked up for years, it can be difficult to find work or housing or get licensed in certain professions.

Former prison inmates are almost 10 times more likely to become homeless than the general population, according to an August report by the Prison Policy Initiative, a nonprofit based in Northampton, Massachusetts.

In recent years, states have begun looking for ways to reduce the time offenders spend on probation or parole, as well as reduce sentences for lesser crimes and reduce jail and prison overcrowding. States aim to ease burdens on probation officers, devote resources to monitoring more dangerous offenders, help offenders reenter society and reduce recidivism rates.

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Teresa Wiltz

Teresa Wiltz covers welfare, housing and social services for Stateline. Previously, she worked for the Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune.