The Importance of IT Modernization when Implementing Clean Slate Initiatives

The Importance of IT Modernization when Implementing Clean Slate Initiatives  

A growing number of federal and state agencies are implementing legislation based onClean Slate,” a bipartisan policy model that applies technology to automatically expunge or seal certain criminal records. Ten states – California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Michigan, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Utah, and Virginia—have enacted Clean Slate laws, while over a dozen others are moving towards automated record-clearing legislation. Additionally, as more states legalize or decriminalize marijuana, experts expect to see the number of states looking to enact Clean Slate legislation increase.  

Every state that enacts laws related to Clean Slate will have the ability to craft their own policies and procedures for criminal record expungement /sealing. This means that each state can decide what types of criminal records they will expunge, which crimes should be eligible for sealing, and how this process should be implemented. In order for such laws to be effective, though, states must have the proper underlying technology in place. Let’s dive into some of the challenges and solutions associated with the IT modernization required of an effective Clean Slate initiative. 

Finding and sharing the right data 

To implement Clean Slate, states must be able to analyze criminal history records and determine which individuals qualify. This is no simple task, since criminal history data is often entered in different formats and stored across myriad courthouses and law enforcement agencies. Many states simply don’t have the data sharing and technical infrastructure needed to verify that individuals meet the criteria for their records to be sealed or expunged. Depending on the offense in question, for example, people are often required to have different “clean periods” (periods during which they were crime-free) to be eligible for sealing or expungement.

The right computerized criminal history (CCH) system will support smooth orchestration of the process among law enforcement, courts, prosecutors, corrections, and supervision agencies. The courts, for instance, may have to verify a sentence has been completed or that fines have been paid before an expungement or seal takes place.  

But the need for data-sharing isn’t limited to government agencies. Private entities provide background checks using data from the courts. As soon as a seal order comes in, they are required to cease dissemination of the sealed information. In fact, there are civil and criminal penalties associated with distributing criminal history information after a seal or expungement has taken place, which means that state agencies must also find an efficient way to facilitate compliance from private sector background screening services.  

Flexibility is key

Clean Slate legislation varies by jurisdiction. For example, in Pennsylvania, eligible offenses can be sealed after the individual has met all court-ordered requirements for 10 years. In Colorado, the time period for sealing ranges from four years to 10 years depending on the type of infraction. 

Clean Slate legislation continues to change at a rapid pace, and flexibility is one of the most important components of IT modernization. The right system for a Clean Slate initiative will have the flexibility to interpret different definitions of clearing criminal records. While nomenclature varies by state, generally speaking, expungement refers to deleting the record altogether, while sealing the record means it’s only disseminated in limited situations. Agencies must have a system that can be easily configured—as opposed to needing to be customized—to adapt to different permeations. Additionally, all laws are subject to change, and systems will need to be updated to keep up with any potential revisions to Clean Slate legislation down the line. 

The bottom line  

As Clean Slate initiatives continue to gain momentum around the country, state CJIS Systems agencies must ensure they have the right modernized technology ecosystem to support the expungement and/or seal of records. In Connecticut, for example, about 44,000 individuals had low-level cannabis possessions
completely expunged as the result of a bill that was passed in 2021. To make this happen, the state invested more than $5 million to modernize its IT.  

Other states are sure to follow suit—both with regard to passing Clean Slate laws and implementing the technology required to make those laws a reality. While states’ approaches will vary, it’s critical to make sure outdated technology doesn’t stand in their way.  

-Chris Jacoby, Justice & Public Safety Practice Lead, Voyatek