The Georgia state legislature is currently omitting a key component to a criminal justice reform bill, SB 288 [SB 288 2019-2020 Regular Session]. Lawmakers have not included language to allow a pathway to expungement for nonviolent felony offenders—a measure that would provide immediate positive economic and social change for nearly 600,000 Georgians.
A felony conviction can follow a person around for the rest of their life, limiting economic opportunity and civil rights. Even after paying their debt to society, many ex-felons are unable to secure a basic job due to applicant questionnaires that ask if they have ever been convicted of a felony.
This lack of opportunity feeds recidivism and contributes to the disenfranchisement of people of color and the communities they live in. Unfortunately, Georgia is one of the largest states without any real expungement law to reduce barriers faced by people with criminal records when looking for work or exercising their civil liberties enumerated by the Constitution.
Criminal justice reform is essential to addressing systemic racism in America. It is critical to make drastic changes for the future, but it is just as important to do what we can to alleviate wrongs from the past.
People of color in Georgia have been disproportionately victimized by the deep flaws in our justice system, and an important first step is releasing people from the stigma and oppression caused by past felony convictions.
In approximately 30 other states, similar measures to provide non-violent ex felons a pathway to expungement have been passed with great success. If all states adopted a similar strategy, the economy would regain about $87B in GDP and 1.9 million workers. (Source: The Price We Pay: Economic Costs of Barriers to Employment for Former Prisoners and People Convicted of Felonies) These expungement measures have a broad range of support in Georgia including groups like the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce.
The following facts are deeply troubling, and illustrate how important this issue is to Georgia:*
- Nearly 600,000 Georgians are living with a felony conviction—one in nine adults in the state—and half of Georgia’s adults have a record of some kind.
- Each formerly incarcerated Georgian unable to work due to a criminal record lost an average of $36,000 in wages in 2019 alone. This amounts to an estimated $2.6 billion in lost spending power, which disproportionately affects black communities.
- At the end of 2019, there were 229,000 unfilled jobs in Georgia. Felony convictions have alienated those with felony convictions, particularly people of color, from even being considered for these job opportunities.
- Prior to the spike in unemployment from the COVID-19 pandemic, the unemployment rate for citizens with criminal records was 15 percent, or nearly five times higher than the statewide unemployment rate. These painful effects are felt far more by the black community and people of color generally.
SB 288 Should Include a Pathway to Felony Expungements for Non-Violent Offenders
The Georgia Legislature adjourns in less than a week. The current version of Senate Bill 288 is still making its way through the process without any relief for Georgians with nonviolent felony convictions.
Including a pathway to expungement for those with nonviolent felony convictions in SB 288 would be a small step toward correcting the legacy of economic oppression by the American criminal justice. More than 600,000 Georgians could possibly take advantage of such a measure—piecing together the social fabric of the state and strengthening its economy in the process.
Demand the Georgia Legislature Make Change, NOW
Georgians should demand that lawmakers include a pathway to expungement for nonviolent felony offenders in Senate Bill 288. There is a chance to make real policy changes now than can help so many Georgians whose civil liberties have been limited by an oppressive criminal justice system.
Visit Georgia’s Second Chance and get involved.
Contact these elected officials today and ask them to include relief for Georgians with nonviolent felony convictions in Senate Bill 288:
Senate Sponsors of SB 288
House Sponsor of SB 288
Contact David Ralston, Georgia’s Speaker of House:
Ph: (404) 656-5020
Spiro Amburn / Chief of Staff
Leishea Johnson / Executive Assistant to the Speaker
Contact Office of the Lieutenant Governor of Georgia, Geoff Duncan
John Porter – Chief of Staff
For all press related inquiries: Hanna Yu – Press Secretary
Hanna.Yu@ltgov.ga.gov or 678-492-1475
Primary: (404) 656-5030
Contact The Office of the Governor of Georgia – Brain Kemp
Constituent Services: (404) 656-1776