Senate approves Bissaillon bill enabling more
Rhode Islanders to expunge misdemeanors

 

STATE HOUSE – The Senate today approved legislation sponsored by Sen. Jacob Bissaillon to remove a roadblock that prevents rehabilitated individuals from having misdemeanors expunged so they can move forward with their lives.

The legislation (2024-S 2454) would change the law that allows people to have up to five misdemeanor expunged as long as five years have passed since they completed their sentence. Under current law, if a person has also ever been convicted of a felony, they are forbidden from filing to have their misdemeanors expunged. Senator Bissaillon’s legislation removes that restriction.

“Expungement is a time-honored and important element of our justice system. It recognizes that rehabilitation is possible, and better positions people who have successfully turned their lives around to get an education, be employed, rent an apartment, and support themselves,” said Senator Bissaillon (D-Dist. 1, Providence), a lawyer and chief executive officer of Justice Assistance, a nonprofit that helps individuals involved in the criminal justice system. “Making some poor choices at 18 or 19 shouldn’t mean a life sentence of economic struggle. We should lift this needless restriction because our whole community benefits when people who have completed their sentence, paid their debts to society, and successfully rehabilitated can prosper.”

Aside from eliminating the restriction on those with a felony, the legislation would not change the expungement process. Every expungement request must go before a judge who decides whether it is warranted, and that judicial discretion would continue.

The bill, which is cosponsored by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Dawn Euer (D-Dist. 13, Newport, Jamestown), Sen. Tiara Mack (D-Dist. 6, Providence) Sen. Frank A. Ciccone III (D-Dist. 6, Providence, Johnston) and Sen. Frank S. Lombardi (D-Dist. 26, Cranston), now goes to the House of Representatives, where Rep. Jason Knight (D-Dist. 67, Barrington, Warren) is sponsoring companion legislation (2024-H 7053). 

In addition to enabling Rhode Islanders who have successfully rehabilitated to move on from their old missteps and lead fulfilling lives, eligibility for expungement serves as an incentive for people with criminal records to stay out of trouble, since they must do so for at least five years following their sentence to qualify. Research has indicated that the crime rate among people with expunged records is lower than that of the general population.

In hearings for the legislation, advocates noted that the bill would help communities of color and those with low incomes, who disproportionately face arrest and conviction for relatively minor matters.

As a black-led organization based in the heart of the state of Rhode Island, we are in support of Senate Bill 2454. We believe anybody who is a first-time offender may file a motion for the expungement of all records. With the help of leading sponsors such as Senators Bissaillon, Euer, Mack, Ciccone and Lombardi, this bill can help empower and uplift all communities, especially low-income communities that face systematic racism,” said Rhode Island Black Political Action Education Committee President Joseph P. Buchanan.

The legislation is also supported by the Rhode Island Public Defender’s Office, the Commission on Human Rights, Amnesty International USA Local Group 1016 and the Clean Slate Initiative.

“Studies have also shown that people with criminal records face discrimination: 9 in 10 employers, 4 in 5 landlords, and 3 in 5 colleges and universities use background checks in hiring decisions. The impact of this discrimination leads to higher rates of homelessness and unemployment. Another study shows that removing the stigma of a criminal record can make it easier for past offenders to work and pay taxes, thus benefiting the community as a whole,” said Commission on Human Rights Executive Director Michael D. Évora in written testimony supporting the bill. “To permit individuals to be stigmatized and penalized for infractions older than ten years is at odds with Rhode Island’s long and honorable history of promoting equality and ensuring that all Rhode Islanders can work and live in a nondiscriminatory environment.”

 

 

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