Georgia Justice Project’s Policy Agenda
|Ensure effective implementation of expungement law revisions in HB1176||The new law increases the availability of expungement for dismissed charges. It also creates the ability to expunge certain misdemeanor convictions, but requires filing a petition with the relevant court. Petitions are now required to expunge dead docketed charges. Two parts of the law need to be amended to ensure access to expungement for low-income individuals and to ensure the full original intent of the statute’s revisions.||
Revise Retroactivity party of the law to reflect that all applications are to be decided in accordance with the criteria laid out in the statute – the criteria agreed upon by stakeholders and legislators. Failure to revise this portion of the law will result in decreased access to expungement for low-income individuals.
Confirm Expungement of Felony Arrest Charges When Convicted of a Misdemeanor – The new law attempted to address the situation when an individual is arrested for a felony or felonies but pled guilty to only an unrelated misdemeanor. Under the current law, the felony charges remain on an individual’s record. Stakeholders and legislators agreed these felonies should be expunged. GJP will work with the sponsors of the expungement revisions to fix this error.
|Restore the intent of the First Offender Act||The First Offender Act is Georgia’s “second chance law.” A judge may sentence someone as a first offender if they have not been convicted of a felony and have never been sentenced pursuant to the First Offender statute. Only after successful completion of the sentence is the charge removed from the individual’s official criminal history (discharged) and employers cannot hold the charge against them. Unfortunately, private background companies and local agencies continue to distribute information about the charges and employers continue to deny employment based on these charges. Changes must be made in the law to restore its original intent.||
Sealing First Offender Records – First Offender records should not be visible to potential employers while the individual is successfully completing their First Offender sentence. Also, once discharged, the record must not continue to be available to potential employers through private background checks.
Address Employer Liability – Current law states that employers may not discriminate against an individual on the basis of a First Offender case that has been discharged, but there is no enforcement mechanism in the law.
Allow Retroactive First Offender Treatment – Many individuals are eligible for sentencing under the First Offender Act but are not advised of this when they enter their plea and are adjudicated guilty.
|Give pardons in Georgia real value||Currently an individual in Georgia can apply for a pardon (a certificate of rehabilitation) of a felony conviction five years after the completion of their sentence, if they have led a crime-free life during that time. The State Board of Pardons and Paroles reviews each application and issues a pardon at their discretion. Pardons, however, are of little use in Georgia because the charges remain on the individual’s criminal history, and employers remain reluctant to hire someone who has been pardoned. The statute needs to be revised to actually make the pardon beneficial to individuals who have been pardoned and rehabilitated.||Expungement of Pardoned Offenses– The law should be changed so that individuals who receive a pardon, which is evidence of rehabilitation, can have the offense expunged from their criminal history so that potential employers cannot have access to the conviction.
Address Employer Liability – Provide protection from liability for employers who hire individuals who have been pardoned.
|Increase voter participation for formerly incarcerated individuals||
Georgia denies the right to vote to people who were convicted of a felony involving moral turpitude while the individual is in prison or on probation or parole. The individual must pay off any fines, fees, or restitution before their right to vote is restored. They must re-register after their sentence is completed. However, Georgia doesn’t seem to differentiate between crimes of “moral turpitude” and other felonies in how the law is implemented. Also, many individuals do not realize they are eligible to vote and therefore do not participate.
Define Moral Turpitude – Legislation defining which crimes fall under the moral turpitude category would help clarify who is eligible to vote.
Remove Voting Rights Penalty– Inability to pay a fine, fee or restitution should not stand in the way of the right to vote.
|Reduce employment discrimination against people with a criminal history||Many Georgia employers impose blanket bans on hiring or even interviewing individuals who have a criminal history (including records of arrest that did not result in conviction). Such blanket bans violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a fact that was recently reiterated by the EEOC when it issued a revised guidance for employers on using criminal history information in making employment decisions. Employers need to be educated about Federal law and Georgia law needs to be revised to provide protections for individuals with a criminal history. Employers also discriminate because they overestimate the risk of liability based on hiring an individual with a criminal history. GJP needs to implement an education campaign available to all employers.||
Anti-discrimination Legislation – A few other states have passed laws to strengthen the protections provided under Title VII and to ensure a state mechanism to enforce those protections.
Ban the Box – Jurisdictions across the country have waged campaigns to pass Ban the Box ordinances and laws. These laws prohibit potential employers from asking about an individual’s criminal history until a conditional offer of employment has been made and generally apply to public sector employees.
Prevent Employers from Using Sealed or Expunged Information in Hiring Decisions – Georgia’s expungement statute should be revised to prohibit employers from using expunged, sealed or pardoned charges to deny an individual employment.
Address Employer Liability – Georgia law should be revised to create a presumption that an employer was not negligent when hiring an individual with expunged, sealed, or pardoned charges.
|Regulate private background check companies||Often an individual works to get a record expunged or a First Offender case sealed, only to have a private background company release the information to a potential employer. These companies are regulated by federal law, the Fair Credit Reporting Act, but many Georgia companies do not comply with the law and the background check companies find ways around the law. A recent report by the National Consumer Law Center documented the problems created by lack of regulation, referring to the “wild west” of employment screening. The report documented the high rate of error on background reports and the difficulty of correcting those errors for individuals.||Research Remedies – A few states have attempted to address these problems legislatively in recent years by expanding on the protections under federal law. At a minimum, state law must require that private background check companies cannot release information regarding expunged and/or sealed charges. Additionally, the law should provide a remedy for Georgia citizens whose information is released in error.|