Clean Slate Initiative | 2023

Clean Slate Initiative

Clearing arrest and conviction records to unlock opportunity

More than 30 million Americans are eligible for record clearance. Yet, less than 10% have successfully been able to access it. The Clean Slate Initiative is a bipartisan movement to shift the burden off the individual, streamline this complicated process and increase access to justice for millions.

Relevant Stats

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One in three Americans — about 70 to 100 million people — have a record, the majority of them for arrests, acquittals and non-violent misdemeanors like excessive speeding. But even after paying their debt to society, they don’t get a second chance: 90% of employers, 80% of landlords and 60% of colleges and universities use background checks to screen out applicants with records. This disproportionately affects people of color. And the effects ripple far beyond the individual — almost 50% of children have a parent with a record, putting them at greater risk of housing instability and intergenerational cycles of poverty. Today, in most states, individuals have to keep track of when they are eligible for record clearance — a status that typically comes after a period of remaining crime free, for certain types of records. Then to actually get the record cleared, they are required to navigate a complex and costly petition-based process on their own. Few are successful.

Big Idea

The problem is vast, but the solution is simple: Clean Slate legislation, which not only expands eligibility for record clearance, but also streamlines the process by requiring that records be cleared automatically when individuals become eligible. The Clean Slate Initiative works to build bipartisan support for this crucial intervention. Over the next six years, they will create the state coalitions needed to pass and implement Clean Slate laws effectively across states and will dramatically increase record clearance, fully clearing records for 6 to 8 million Americans, while partially clearing records for an additional 10 million. Record clearance has a meaningful impact on individuals and their families — research shows that earnings for individuals with cleared records increased by 22% within one year and that those receiving expungement are no more likely to commit crimes than the general population.


The team at Clean Slate Initiative is enacting a 50-state strategy to increase access to record clearance for more Americans. In six states where Clean Slate legislation has recently passed, they will focus on enabling implementation. They will also work in 23 states with favorable environments, engaging in multi-year campaigns to pass legislation. And in 19 states where the environment isn’t as favorable, they will begin groundwork, changing hearts and minds and creating the conditions to pursue campaigns in the future. In each state, the Clean State Initiative will work with bipartisan leaders and organizations, and offer their expertise on what works: smart policy design, an eye toward implementation from day one and campaign strategy that centers lived experience. Along the way, they will redefine the narrative around people with records, cutting through the bias and stigma, to reorient the criminal justice system to live up to the ideals of second chances.

Why will it Succeed?

Six states have passed Clean Slate laws in the past three years with Clean Slate Initiative’s help — Oklahoma, Colorado, Utah, Michigan, Connecticut and Delaware. Half of these states passed their laws in just the past 12 months. Together, these efforts will enable full record clearance for more than 2 million Americans, with many more set to be cleared in coming years. These policy wins have been possible because both sides of the aisle can galvanize around this issue, as can business leaders, labor leaders and criminal justice advocates. There is sweeping support for record clearance, and by advancing a nationwide strategy, Clean Slate Initiative can push it toward the tipping point.

Project Impact

Recent Updates

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The Independent

12 mind-blowing facts about the criminal justice system

12 mind-blowing facts about the criminal justice system

There is only so much a statistic can show about the criminal justice system, and how to change it for the better. Many are well aware, and have been for years, of its racial biases, of its great financial costs to the government, of its deep reach into the lives of a huge proportion of Americans and their families.

May 22, 2022

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