Fully Fund the Second Chance Amendment Act

Testimony of Michael Johnson at the FY2025 Budget Oversight Hearing for the Metropolitan Police Department and Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice

Chairperson Pinto and members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify today. My name is Michael Johnson Jr., and I am a Policy Analyst at the DC Fiscal Policy Institute (DCFPI). DCFPI is a nonprofit organization that shapes racially-just tax, budget, and policy decisions by centering Black and brown communities in our research and analysis, community partnerships, and advocacy efforts to advance an antiracist, equitable future.

DCFPI urges the Council to provide timely record relief for people with criminal records in DC by fully funding the Second Chance Amendment Act of 2022 (Second Chance Act). In 2022, the Council and this committee took important steps to provide criminal record relief for DC residents through the Second Chance Act. However, funding for the legislation’s implementation is still undetermined and opportunities remain to further improve the record clearing processes under the act. DCFPI also urges the Council to ensure public reporting of record relief processing as well as ongoing barriers to reentry experienced by people with criminal legal involvement to provide greater accountability in meeting record relief deadlines and improve reentry reform efforts.

Specifically, the committee should work with the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) and the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice (DMPSJ) to:

  • Maintain the mayor’s proposed fiscal year (FY) 2025 funding for the Second Chance Act, and fully fund the bill over the financial plan;
  • Amend the Second Chance Act to allow waiting periods for record relief to begin on the date of a person’s conviction rather than after sentence completion, which can go far beyond the end of incarceration;
  • Allow people with records that are eligible for automatic clearing the ability to petition the courts for record relief;
  • Ensure public reporting of record relief progress under the Second Chance Act; and
  • Support DMPSJ in completing its required study of collateral consequences for people with criminal legal system involvement.

Fully Fund the Second Chance Amendment Act

Nearly one in seven DC residents has a publicly available criminal record, and more than 80 percent of people arrested in DC are Black.[1],[2] People with records experience harsh collateral consequences such as difficulties gaining employment and obtaining housing, and lasting social and economic harm to their families and communities.[3] For example, nearly 75 percent of formerly incarcerated people in the US are unemployed one year post-release.[4] Additionally, 87 percent of employers, 80 percent of landlords, and 66 percent of colleges and universities continue to use background checks to screen out applicants with criminal records.[5] Providing DC residents with timely and expansive record relief is critical to advancing public safety and economic and racial justice.

Recently, the Council has made positive strides to provide record relief for DC residents, including by adopting the Second Chance Act.[6] DCFPI supports the mayor’s proposed FY 2025 funding for the implementation of the Second Chance Act and urges the Council to maintain this proposed funding.[7] DCFPI also encourages the committee and Council to fully fund the bill over the financial plan. However, even with full funding, there are a number of changes still needed to the existing bill to ensure the District provides comprehensive and urgent record relief.

Shorten Record Relief Waiting Periods to Begin on the Date of Conviction

The committee and Council should amend the Second Chance Act to ensure the waiting period for record relief eligibility begins on the date of a person’s conviction.[8] Currently, the law requires record relief waiting periods to begin after sentence completion, which can go far beyond the end of incarceration.[9] For people who are incarcerated and also sentenced to parole, probation, or another type of community supervision, sentence completion is often well after their release. DC residents on probation are typically under supervision for one to three years, while residents on parole are typically under supervision for five to 22 years.[10] This means that employers, landlords, and licensing boards, among others, can continue denying opportunities to people with records, limiting their economic security and ability to successfully reintegrate into society for years, potentially decades. Several states, such as Alabama and South Carolina, begin record relief waiting periods on the date of someone’s conviction, resulting in people having their rights restored more quickly than DC residents with comparable sentences.[11]

Moreover, allowing the waiting period for record relief to begin on the date of conviction would streamline processes through DC’s local courts, bringing relief to DC residents more quickly. In DC, the local courts impose sentencing and process record clearing, while the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA) is a federal agency that oversees all DC residents under community supervision. When someone completes their sentence, only CSOSA has immediate access to this information. Any data sharing delays between CSOSA and the DC courts may delay record relief processing. Alternatively, the DC courts have immediate access to conviction records, which means they could begin the process as soon as someone receives a conviction.

Expand Relief Pathways for DC Residents with Records Eligible for Automatic Sealing or Expungement

The Second Chance Act does not include a pathway for people with records eligible for automatic relief to have their records cleared prior to 2027. The act establishes two main pathways for DC residents to obtain record relief: automatically or through filing a motion with the courts. Automatic sealing or expungement is only available to those with decriminalized, legalized, or certain non-conviction records, while by-motion processes are only available to those with certain non-conviction, conviction, and records where found innocent.[12] With the passage of SECURE DC, by-motion record relief for eligible offenses will take effect starting in October 2024, but the automatic relief processes will not be effective until October 2027.[13]

DCFPI strongly encourages the committee to ensure that DC residents with records eligible for automatic relief can petition the courts for relief prior to October 2027. Currently, the Second Chance Act does not specify that people with records eligible for automatic relief can move to seal those records before automatic sealing takes effect. Without this provision in the law, DC residents eligible for automatic relief via the Second Chance Act could potentially wait longer for record relief than those eligible for record sealing and expungement by petitioning the courts.

Require Reporting of Record Relief Progress Authorized by the Second Chance Act

The committee should craft Budget Support Act language, or a standalone bill, requiring DMPSJ to publish quarterly or bi-annual reports on record relief progress authorized by the Second Chance Act. These reports could include estimates of 1) the total number of DC residents who are eligible for relief and 2) the total number of those residents who are granted relief. Estimates should include summarized and de-personalized breakdowns of those eligible for relief by motion or automatic relief and provide demographic characteristics for each eligible group.

Requiring DMPSJ to publish record relief progress reports would improve public accountability and transparency and foster effective implementation of the law. Holding DMPSJ publicly accountable to implementing record relief may help DC avoid some of the record relief processing delays experienced in other states. For example, courts in Missouri, California, and many others that have recently enacted comprehensive record relief have experienced significant delays in processing record clearing.[14],[15]

Ensure Public Reporting of Collateral Consequences for People with Criminal Legal System Involvement

As noted, returning citizens face continued barriers to employment and economic opportunity upon their re-entry. The Removing Barriers to Occupational Licensing for Returning Citizens Amendment Act of 2020 required DMPSJ to complete a study of these barriers and to provide recommendations for barrier mitigation.[16] More than two years after the January 2022 deadline, DMPSJ has not completed the study.[17]

The committee should work with DMPSJ to understand why the study has been delayed, find solutions for completing it in a timely manner, and then direct DMPSJ to make the results publicly available. Greater transparency around the full scope of structural barriers faced by people with criminal legal system involvement can help researchers, advocates, and policymakers recommend and implement tailored supports for returning citizens and also inform future investments by the committee. Moreover, the study could inform returning citizens and their families of potential barriers they may experience upon release while also providing resources about their rights and available services.

[1] Marina Duane, et. al, “Criminal Background Checks and Access to Jobs: A Case Study of Washington, DC,” Urban Institute, July 2017.

[2]MPD Adult Arrests,” DC Justice Statistical Analysis Tool, 2023.

[3] Collateral consequences are legal and regulatory restrictions that limit or prohibit people convicted of crimes from accessing employment, business and occupational licensing, housing, voting, education, and other opportunities.

[4]A Proclamation on Second Chance Month,” The White House Briefing Room, March 2022.

[5] Rebecca Vallas and Sharon Dietrich, “One Strike and You’re Out: How We Can Eliminate Barriers to Economic

Security and Mobility for People with Criminal Records,” Center for American Progress, December 2014.

[6]Second Chance Amendment Act of 2022,” A24-0778, January 27, 2023.

[7] Proposed FY 2025 Budget and Financial Plan, April 2024.

[8] Waiting periods refer to a period of time a person, who is otherwise eligible to expunge or seal a misdemeanor or felony conviction record, must wait before obtaining this relief. Typically, during a waiting period, the person must be free from certain forms of involvement with the justice system: from a felony conviction, from any conviction, or from any arrest, depending on state law.

[9]Second Chance Amendment Act of 2022,” A24-0778.

[10]CSOSA Congressional Budget Justification,” Fiscal Year 2024.

[11] Margaret Love and David Schlussel, “Waiting for Relief: A National Survey of Waiting Periods for Record Clearing,” Collateral Consequences Resource Center, February 2022.

[12]Second Chance Amendment Act of 2022,” A24-0778.

[13]Secure DC Omnibus Amendment Act of 2024,” A25-0411, March 11, 2024.

[14] Mark Slavit, “NORML threatens court order against Missouri counties for marijuana law violations,” 13 KRGC, June 2023.

[15] Alexander Lekhtman, “California Officials Have Failed To Seal Thousands Of Marijuana Conviction Records,” Marijuana Moment, October 2021.

[16]Removing Barriers to Occupational Licensing for Returning Citizens Amendment Act of 2020,” A23-0561, January 15, 2021.

[17] DCFPI email correspondence with CJPS staff in January 2024.