Community Service Society of New York

In 2018, Proskauer highlighted the importance of a New York law that gives those with criminal convictions an opportunity to build a better life. New York Crim. Proc. Law § 160.59 (“CPL 160.59”) allows persons convicted of certain crimes to apply for their criminal record to be sealed upon meeting two requirements: (1) at least ten years have passed since their release from prison; and (2) a record of two or fewer criminal convictions only one of which can be a felony.  Once sealed, these records are inaccessible to the public and through routine background checks, such as those used by landlords and employers. Though CPL 160.59 has provided some with a needed second chance, it has excluded far too many people.

Many other states have implemented their own laws permitting criminal records to be sealed — in 2019 alone, 31 states and D.C. enacted bills creating, expanding, or streamlining conviction record sealing, set-asides, or expungement. New York was one of those states, reforming the system by automatically sealing drug convictions for now decriminalized offenses, as well as sealing certain pending matters where there has been no activity in the past five years.  Nevertheless, New York did not take the opportunity to expand the scope of CPL 160.59 and thus it remains severely underused compared to original estimates.

The United States comprises about 4% of the world’s population – and houses about 22% of the world’s prison population.  The U.S. Department of Justice reports that each year approximately 650,000 people are released from prison.  Helping this population with a successful transition following incarceration is not only critically important to the individuals involved, but to society generally.

This week, Proskauer partnered with New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI) to host a panel discussion addressing reentry challenges for previously incarcerated individuals and their families. Panelists included Judy Whiting, General Counsel at the Community Service Society of New York; Rob DeLeon, Associate Vice President of Programs at The Fortune Society; Esta Bigler, Director of Cornell University ILR’s Labor and Employment Law Program; and Gwen Washington, Director of Pro Bono at DC Law Students in Court. They analyzed barriers faced by the formerly incarcerated population, which is disproportionately drawn from minority and low income communities, and highlighted initiatives that offer solutions, including legal assistance in petitioning the court to seal old convictions and family law consultations to ease the reentry process.