Del. Jill P. Carter (D) and Sen. Christopher Shank (R) . (Courtesy Photos)
The Maryland General Assembly is on the precipice of passing stronger shielding protections for persons with misdemeanor criminal records. Sen. Christopher Shank (R) and Del. Jill P. Carter (D) shared this news with an audience during a recent forum on shielding and expungement protections.
At the forum, “How Long Is Too Long,” held at the University of Baltimore School of Law on Jan. 12, a panel of experts, including Shank and Carter, discussed the pros and cons of shielding and expungement protections for persons with criminal convictions. Shielding laws hide past criminal convictions from persons conducting background checks, while expungement wipes the convictions from their record.
The Maryland Second Chance Act, which would shield certain misdemeanor criminal convictions from background checks after a specified period, comes before the legislature this session. Shank and Carter expressed optimism about its passage in the 2015 General Assembly.
Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, spoke at the forum about the consequences of a criminal conviction that go beyond any court ordered sentence. “When the judge says, ‘I’m sentencing you to do five years in prison,’ he or she doesn’t say that I’m going to limit your right to receive public benefits, or live in public housing, or your right to vote for periods of time, or anything like that. Nobody in the courtroom talks about that, but that in fact is what’s happening,” Mauer said.
Mauer called these consequences a “life-long sentence,” and noted that communities of color and the poor are disproportionately affected.
Shank said, explaining his support for the Second Chance Act, we have to rethink our approaches to criminal justice, citing high costs to the state with limited results. “We spend over a billion dollars a year . That is a lot of money. That is more money than we spend on higher education in this state, it’s crowding out a lot of other spending, and our recidivism rate is still hovering around 40 to 45 percent in this state. So if I am true to my principles . . . I would say that continuing to spend a billion dollars and then seeing this rate of recidivism means that we should be doing some things a little bit differently,” Shank said.
Shank said a study showed that the risk a convicted person will commit certain crimes again matches the risk of the general population after a certain amount of time. He said this information drives his support for shielding protections for those crimes after an allotted period.
Carter said while the General Assembly prides itself for being a progressive institution, it has not been progressive on criminal justice matters. This is why she believes it is important to support an incremental change – like the one the Second Chance Act represents – when one might prefer a bill, for example, that did not require a waiting period before records eligible for shielding or expungement.
“We’re talking about a legislature that still has not allowed persons to expunge non-convictions . Given that, I think we have to push forward very forcefully, but I think we have to consider some kind of a wait-period. I know how far we have been from expanding expungement and how difficult it’s been to even get passed, which minor, misdemeanor convictions, of little to no consequence that really probably shouldn’t be convictions that bar people from opportunities anyway,” said Carter.