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On behalf of Americans for Prosperity activists across West Virginia, I urge you to support House Bill 4522, Relating to the expungement of criminal records. This vote may be recorded in our 2022 session legislative scorecard.
Americans for Prosperity believes our criminal justice system should promote both accountability and redemption. We believe that accountability is an essential component of justice, but when someone has fulfilled the debt they owe to our community it is essential that we incentivize them to become productive citizens in their communities and avoid future criminal behavior. The sad reality is that many individuals exit our justice system believing they will be able to move on from their past mistakes, but quickly learn they face insurmountable barriers to doing so. These barriers exist even for defendants acquitted of all criminal charges or against whom charges were dismissed with prejudice.
Under current law, in order for individuals who were not convicted of a crime to have their records expunged they must petition the government to clear their name. HB 4522 recognizes that this obligation should be on the government, not innocent citizens.
They will face both societal stigma and more than 44,000 legal barriers that impact their ability to start a business, secure employment, find a suitable place to live, and conduct themselves as contributing members of their local communities. As West Virginia knows from previous efforts and experience, a growing body of research reveals the positive benefits of expungement for public safety and our local economies. A study looking at exonerated individuals found that individuals who also had their records expunged had a recidivism rate almost 19% lower than those who did not receive an expungement of their exonerated record. Another study looking at a sample of people who secured expungement in Oakland, California found that the percentage of employed increased by 10% and average earnings increased by $6,000 in the years following their expungement.
Right now, folks leaving the justice system who genuinely want to be contributing members of society are presented with too many needless barriers holding them back from reaching their full potential. This includes folks who were accused of a crime for which they were not found guilty. The result is a system in which too many individuals are being trapped in a cycle of poverty and recidivism, denying their dignity, and deeply harming our state both economically and fiscally. West Virginia should take additional steps to streamline the process so the benefits of expungement can be fully realized by our citizens.
It is for these reasons we respectfully ask you to support HB 4522.