“For many, this will remove the scarlet letter of being in the criminal justice system. It allows Georgians to receive a second chance at transforming their lives and moving beyond mistakes made in the past. Our state needs to embrace restorative and redemptive policy, acknowledging all life is precious and valuable.” – Governor Brian Kemp
The famous book written by Nathaniel Hawthorne in the mid-1800s documented the consequences of Hester Prynne who’s adultery “crime” resulted in a sentence that mandated wearing a scarlet letter on her clothing. Over time, the definition has broadened to mean a permanent and punitive mark or brand.
Today’s scarlet letter takes the form of a criminal conviction and subsequent record. Regardless of the severity, background checks, at best, impair a fresh start. Even educational opportunities are in question.
The Continuing Challenges
When an inmate is released from prison, having served their full sentence, incarceration does not necessarily end their punishment. Obstacles still exist. While they are considered free, they face a new chapter of their lives with restrictions. As they leave prison, criminal histories do not stay behind when they pass through the gates. They follow them.
In 2020, few initiatives can unite lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. Yet, every single member of the Georgia State Legislature and advocacy groups coalesced behind a cause that can make life easier for ex-convicts who have served their time.
A Second Chance
Governor Brian Kemp signed SB 288, a new law will restrict and, in some cases, seal certain conviction records. Taking effect on the first day of the new year, those who have been rehabilitated can look forward to the chance of wiping the slate clean four years post-sentence with the caveat of not reoffending or being convicted of a crime.
The second chance also applies to felony convictions when people have received a pardon from the State Board of Pardons and Paroles. They can petition the court for restrictions to and sealing of records provided that they were not incarcerated for serious violent felonies or sex crimes.
Exceptions exist, specifically sex crimes, offenses against children, family violence, and drunk driving.
An expunged record is only the start. Encouraging employers to join them in this initiative presents even more challenges. The new law addresses that fear of recruiting prospective employees who have a criminal past and provides liability protection for enterprises serving those in vulnerable groups.
In a year where nearly everything feels different, change that brings second chances is welcome news.