Recidivism, re-entry and opportunity have all been platforms for politicians and social movements in Delaware and there's been a a push for more action including a recent state senate bill that helps expunge non-violent crimes from adult records.
State Senator Darius Brown, of the Second District, was the author of that bill.
"We made great history in the state of Delaware last week by passing an adult expungement reform act bill that allows individuals to have a second chance," said Brown. "It's so befitting to be here and be supportive of the work that our congresswoman is doing with Clean Slate because it is, indeed, a bipartisan issue.
The bill passed unanimously and was a sign of the bipartisan effort at the state level to commit to criminal justice reform.
About 30 components are part of a series of protocols and reforms announced Monday by Delaware's Attorney General.
Recently, Pennsylvania became the first state to pass a 'Clean Slate Act' and Delaware's lone U.S. House Representative has decided to capitalize on that momentum by partnering with Representative Guy Reschenthaler, who was instrumental in the state version in the Keystone State, on a federal bill.
"We had to get a new sponsor, this year--we had to find somebody that believed and that was a Republican because it was important to me that this be bipartisan. This couldn't be a bill that we just pass and then it sits on a shelf or doesn't go anywhere--but that we have a real team effort on," said Blunt Rochester. "This was a guy who was actually in the general assembly in Pennsylvania, which is the state that actually passed it last year--then he comes to congress and get to help us pass it in the U.S. House of Representatives on a federal level."
She was more than energetic when she talked about the timing of this move.
Rochester also noted that her path to the new House Bill 2348 started well before Pennsylvania or Delaware had anything to back up the movement in legislature--roughly 2006 when the HOPE Commission was a report.
"We didn't just take a report and put it on a shelf or forget about it--no, people stood up and ran for mayor and I even ran for congress. Shucks people, we are here today," she added. "I stand before you, humbled to be a part of something that we want to see--a movement.
She noted that the work being done in the First State is undeniable, but that it's time for Congress to lead from the top.
"This bill is for the federal level. This is for federal, non-violent, crimes where people have paid their debt and they just need a slate that's clean so that they can go to work, get a home and go to college," Blunt Rochester said. "We need to do this in every state, as well."
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Along with finding a Republican to sponsor the new bill, Rochester and her team have reached out and have even been working with the conservative FreedomWorks organization.
Sarah Anderson is their federal affairs manager and has seen the shift towards a bipartisan push.
"Falling on the more conservative side of the political spectrum, we're pretty thankful to find ourselves--in the past half decade or so, so deeply involved in the criminal justice reform movement," said Anderson. "With the successful enactment of the First Step Act, last year, we'll now have individuals coming home from their time in the federal prison system ready to return to society--rehabilitated and equipped with the necessary skills they'll need to succeed. This is not a one way street. We also need to make ensure that our society is ready for these individuals and doesn't discriminate against a simple, past mistake. That's what Clean Slate is all about--providing a way to streamline, and in many cases, even automate record sealing for certain non-violent offenses and simple arrests."
She noted that no matter what side of the aisle you're on, the facts have spoken for themselves.
The fairness of Delaware's justice system, as well as alleged unfairness, will get a lot of discussion in the next few weeks in the Delaware General Assembly.
Although most prison sentences are not for life, or even at all, the sentence of a criminal record is," she added. "Heartbreaking stories are all around us of men and women being denied housing, jobs and important educational opportunities for years, and even sometimes decades, after completing their full sentence for a non-violent offense and remaining crime free. Yet, these cases often go un-discussed."
Those cases are now being attended to in troves, like Hanif Salaam's, who works at the HOPE Commission after being incarcerated for three years in the early 2000s.
"Once a person comes home and they've served all their obligations to the system, we still have over 700 collateral consequences [in the state of Delaware] that could prevent them from having a true second chance," said Salaam. "When I came home in 2003, they didn't even use the term 're-entry.' It was just 'find your way and make it. I'm so glad that I did but there's so many that didn't. This is why we need the Clean Slate Act and other smart justice initiatives that will give people a true second chance."
One of the most involved in the statewide push for reform is Attorney General Kathy Jennings, who made it a keystone of her campaign to fight recidivism and champion re-entry solutions.
"73% of people coming out of prison will be re-arrested for a serious offense within the first three years--that is unacceptable and it is a symptom of a failure in our system that must be corrected, and it must be corrected now," said Jennings. "This isn't just unique to Delaware. This is an American story. More than one million of our fellow Americans have a criminal record and the vast majority of them, 90% of those people in Delaware, will be back in our communities. They are our neighbors, our friends, our co-workers, our families--they are us."
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She added that she's seen both sides of the coin of those affected by the system continuing to punish those after they've paid their debt to society.
"My work with the HOPE Commission and in my career have given me a front seat to the consequences of a criminal record. Any record, even sometimes the mere fact of an arrest, can make it virtually impossible to find housing, to work in many occupations, access educational opportunities or to qualify for credit and financial services," she added. "You have all opened our eyes and opened the eyes of so many people in Delaware--we have a unique opportunity for bipartisan change in congress and in our own state legislature."
Blunt Rochester echoed the fact that this movement is one of the more uniting efforts from the state level to the national stage.
"We got some people who typically don't agree on every issue to come together on this Clean Slate," said Blunt Rochester.
She said there's a path for the bill to become law and make substantial impact on the lives of millions of Americans from the incarcerated to the everyday taxpayer who would hopefully welcome in those who have paid for their crimes with open arms.
The announcement may have brought the news to the public, but she wanted to let everyone know just how official it is that the criminal justice reform movement is in motion.
We have a bill number and it it HR 2348, because eight is my lucky number," she added. "None of this 'if,' I want to say Clean Slate will be passed--it will be passed."