State Sen. Jamilah Nasheed

Second chances are lifelines.

We may think of second chances as quick, little do-overs; however, for some they’re much more than that. For some, they can have a major impact on the rest of their lives.

You see, second chances are the realization that people change, that your past shouldn’t define you. They give individuals a lifeline. A new path forward.

The expungement process is one of those lifelines.

It allows certain arrest or conviction records to be sealed and can lead to greater opportunities for some ex-offenders who have served their time and meet certain requirements. Expungement can reduce barriers to success for ex-offenders by no longer requiring these individuals to list certain convictions on job or housing applications. By removing the stigma surrounding a conviction, the odds of finding a good job or putting a roof over their head increase.

But these second chances help more than just ex-offenders. They benefit entire communities by reducing recidivism and repeat offenses within it. Without a second chance, without a job or place to live, it’s easy for someone to find themselves right back where they started – struggling and making the same mistakes they made before. Expungement provides a lifeline and a path forward.

Expungement has been an issue I have been passionate about since entering the General Assembly in 2007. Luckily, I’ve found allies throughout the Missouri General Assembly who share my passion for reforming Missouri’s criminal justice system.

In 2016, the General Assembly passed a bipartisan legislative overhaul of state law regarding criminal code, county and municipal courts. Many non-violent, non-sexual offenses are now eligible for expungement. Previously, misdemeanor offenses could only be sealed after a decade had passed following the original conviction. However, individuals can now request the expungement of such convictions after three years. Similarly, felony records are now available for expungement after seven years instead of the previous requirement of 20 years.

During the 2019 legislative session, we managed to improve upon this work by passing Senate Bill 1. This bill, which the governor signed into law earlier this year, expands expungement opportunities even further for those convicted of non-violent, non-sexual offenses including first-degree stealing.

Expanding expungement opportunities is a step in the right direction. After all, we shouldn’t be putting up roadblocks to finding a good job or safe, stable housing. People deserve a second chance to live law-abiding lives. No one should be defined by their past and be prevented from having a safe, successful future. This is how you reduce crime: it starts with a hand up and not a hand out.

State Senator Jamilah Nasheed (D-St. Louis) represents Missouri’s 5th District in the Missouri Senate.

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