jail overcrowding

Bunk beds for inmates fill one of the areas of the El Paso County Jail on Tueday, August 22, 2017. (Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette)

More than one million Coloradans with non-violent criminal records will soon have their records automatically sealed – thanks to a bill signed into law by Gov. Jared Polis on Tuesday.

Scheduled to go into effect in August, Senate Bill 99 implements an automatic sealing process for non-violent criminal records. The new law applies to those who are eligible to request record sealing under the current system – meaning they have finished their sentence, completed a required waiting period and have not committed another criminal offense.

Colorado lawmakers passed the bill — dubbed the Clean Slate Act — nearly unanimously in a 61-4 vote in the House and a 33-1 vote in the Senate. None of the five opponents, all of whom are Republicans, commented on their “no” votes.

“It's not often you get to pass a policy that has the potential to help millions of people overnight, and Clean Slate Colorado did just that,” said Healthier Colorado CEO Jake Williams. “We've now removed many of these barriers for deserving people and their families and we know our communities will be stronger, safer and healthier for it.”

Around 1.125 million Coloradans with criminal records are eligible to apply for sealing but have not, according to state estimates. Bill supporters said many don’t pursue record sealing because the current process is difficult and expensive, involving filing a petition with the court and paying a fee. Under the bill, those Coloradans can have their records sealed without taking any action.

Supporters championed the bipartisan-sponsored bill as a way to increase Colorado’s workforce by removing a barrier to employment, education and housing for residents with criminal records. Colorado and the rest of the nation are experiencing a pandemic-induced labor shortage. In July 2021, 7.7% of jobs in Colorado were unfilled — an all-time high for the state, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The bill will also prohibit employment and housing discrimination based on the contents of a sealed criminal record.

“Business leaders across Colorado recognize that the Clean Slate Act is an essential step towards economic recovery and getting people back on their feet," said Nan Gibson with JP Morgan Chase. "This is demonstrated by the massive groundswell of support within the business community.”

Nearly three dozen Colorado businesses backed the bill, including JPMorgan Chase, Goodwill, Home Depot and the fair-chance employment platform Honest Jobs.

Supporters of the bill also argue that automatic record sealing would lower crime. They cited a 2020 Harvard Law Review study, which concluded that people who have gotten their criminal records sealed or expunged are less likely to reoffend and pose a lower crime risk than the general population.

Under the bill, district attorneys can object to automatic record sealing for non-drug felonies by filing notice to a court. The court can deny record sealing based on a victim’s concern or a media outlet’s need to access records.

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