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Mayor Bowser Introduces the Second Chance Amendment Act of 2021 to Radically Simplify Criminal Record Sealing

Thursday, February 4, 2021
Legislation Will Improve Access to Housing, Job Training, and Employment Opportunities for Residents Seeking a Fair Shot

(Washington, DC) – Today, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced she has sent the Second Chance Amendment Act of 2021 to the Council of the District of Columbia. The legislation includes automatic sealing for non-dangerous, non-convictions; greatly expands the eligibility of who can seal their record; and shortens the waiting periods before a person is eligible to seal their record. If enacted, it would immediately impact hundreds of thousands of people who have gone through the criminal justice system in the District of Columbia.

“We are long overdue in reforming and simplifying the record sealing process in Washington, DC,” said Mayor Bowser. “As we work to make our city more equitable, we must rethink how to expand opportunity for Washingtonians who need it most. With a clean slate, residents can access the jobs, housing, and education that will help them thrive and, in turn, make our communities safer. I look forward to working with Council on this important legislation.”

Each year, more than 40,000 people are arrested in the District. Although about one-third of these individuals are never prosecuted, a criminal record still exists and impacts their ability to find employment or housing. Approximately 10,000 people each year seek legal assistance from non-profit organizations to navigate the currently complex and confusing process of record sealing.

A criminal record can often be a significant hurdle for individuals who are seeking to gain employment, secure housing, and access workforce training opportunities. The Second Chance Amendment Act of 2021 seeks to remove these hurdles from residents in need of a fair shot at accessing these trajectory-changing resources. Sealing a person’s criminal records prevents a third party from obtaining his or her records when conducting a background check, but still allows law enforcement, the judicial system, and special employers (those who work with children, elderly, or another special needs population) to access them.

Specifically, for individuals who are arrested but not prosecuted, and for people who are charged but not convicted, the Second Chance Amendment Act of 2021 would result in their records being sealed within 90 days of the termination of the case. For those with convictions, the legislation mandates a panel of legal experts review the types of convictions that should be eligible for sealing; it also reduces the time to seal those records.

The bill’s submission is the third time in four years that record sealing legislation has been introduced by Mayor Bowser. Although a Council hearing was held on the bill in December 2017, the bill stalled in committee. The bill was re-introduced in 2019, but once again never made it out of committee.