Give Second Chances/Expungements to Non-Violent/Non-Sexual Offenders Who've Rehabilitated
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Twelve years ago, on a fateful day, September 21, 2007, I was in active drug addiction and made a terrible decision. As a result, I pled guilty to a felony and was sentenced to Drug Court. While participating in the Monmouth County Drug Court program, I received intensive treatment for my opioid use disorder and mental health treatment for my depression. Since that time, for over a decade, I have been clean and sober and completely rehabilitated my life. However, despite that transformation, I have been unable to escape the draconian consequences of my felony conviction. I am pleading for mercy and help. I am pleading for a second chance, so that after I complete graduate school next year, and obtain my master of science degree in clinical mental health counseling, I can become a state licensed clinical drug and alcohol counselor and licensed professional counselor, help others, and support my four children as a single parent.
Nationwide, it is estimated that approximately 19 million Americans have felony conviction records (Prescott & Starr, 2018). Ex-offenders face many hurdles particularly with regard to employment, housing, and social reintegration. Federal law alone imposes close to 1,200 collateral consequences, and another 1,088 are imposed by New Jersey (National Inventory of Collateral Consequences of Conviction). These collateral consequences and hurdles have been collectively referred to as a “new civil death." However, there is a cost-free way for Governor Murphy and the legislators of the State of New Jersey to give rehabilitated convicted offenders true freedom and an opportunity to become valuable, meaningful members of society-- expungements. Expungements offer the possibility of releasing hundreds of legal and socioeconomic consequences at once; by allowing individuals to apply for jobs, housing, schools, and benefits as though their convictions did not exist. In Michigan, a 2018 study has provided epidemiological evidence that people who receive expungements have extremely low recidivism rates, while they experience extremely high rates of enhanced employment opportunities and earning potential. Granting expungements to non-violent, non-sexual ex-offenders who have demonstrated rehabilitation benefits not only the individuals receiving those expungements, but society as a whole.
In purported recognition of the effectiveness and benefits of expungements and second chances, New Jersey elected officials attempted to broaden access to expungements, but unfortunately, their effort has failed miserably. For example, three years ago, a law was passed allowing Drug Court graduates broadened access to expungements, but yet only 1,353 of over 6,000, or 22%, of eligible Drug Court Graduates have received expungements. I am one of the people who have been unable to obtain an expungement after successful graduation from Drug Court, sustained recovery, and demonstrated rehabilitation. In fact, while I have received a Certificate of Rehabilitation pursuant to the New Jersey Rehabilitated Convicted Offender's Act, I have been denied an expungement. If final, this denial will has disastrous effects on both me, and my children.
My story, like that of thousands of other New Jersyans--is one of tragic drug dependency and the opportunity for so-called second chances that the Legislature meant for drug courts to offer. The denial of my expungement risks thwarting my endeavors to become a counselor, help other members of society, and support my four children financially. I have made so many efforts to obtain a second chance, but I have largely been ignored. My voice alone is not enough. I am respectfully asking you to help support my request for clemency and appeal to the legislatorsto revise the expungement statutes so that expungements are in fact granted to those people who have demonstrated rehabilitation. I thank you in advance for your support.
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