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New law offers hope to would-be employees by automatically sealing criminal records

goodwill
Posted at 5:05 PM, Jun 02, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-02 19:17:30-04

DENVER — At the Goodwill store in Castle Rock, the company’s mission is written on the wall. It reads, "Goodwill provides education, career development and employment opportunities to help Coloradoans in need achieve self-sufficiency, dignity and hope through the power of work."

It’s a mantra the vice president of human resources for Goodwill Colorado, Gary Smith, lives by.

Like many other companies in Colorado, though, Goodwill is struggling to find workers.

“This is easily the tightest labor market I've ever seen,” Smith said. “We're all struggling, we're all trying to hire from the same pool of employees.”

The company currently employs roughly 2,800 people across the state. It’s raised wages and offered more benefits, but Smith says they still need about 200 more employees to be fully operational.

While it is struggling to hire, Goodwill is doing something many other employees are not. It’s a second and third chance employer, willing to hire people who can’t get a job anywhere else because of a previous criminal conviction.

“We often will see things on backgrounds that perhaps other employers will say, "I'm sorry, we can't hire you." And Goodwill will gladly hire them,” Smith said.

It all goes back to the company’s mission. It’s also why Goodwill and three dozen other companies recently supported a bill to offer people a second chance.

Senate Bill 22-099, otherwise known as the Colorado Clean Slate Act, automatically seals criminal records after a set amount of time, so long as the person has not committed any new offenses. However, it does not apply to violent crimes.

Under the new law, records would be automatically sealed as follows:

  • For civil infractions: records would be sealed four years after the final disposition
  • For petty offenses and misdemeanors: records would be sealed seven years after the final disposition
  • For felony offenses: records would be sealed 10 years after the final disposition or after their release from jail, whichever is later

District attorneys would be able to object within 45 days if they have a reasonable belief grounded in supporting facts that the public interest and public safety in retaining public access to the current record or case outweighs the privacy interest of the defendant. They would also have access to those records if the person commits another crime.

The law also mandates that employers are not allowed to require applicants to disclose any information contained in sealed criminal justice records, and says applicants cannot be denied simply for their refusal to disclose what’s in a sealed record.

The new law comes on the heels of a law that passed last year establishing a process to automatically seal the criminal records related to some drug offenses.

Supporters say this will help both employers and employees.

“We're at a time when Colorado needs to be economically competitive, especially with our workforce,” said Kyle Piccola, the senior director of communications for Healthier Colorado. “What Clean Slate does is it gives people, and rightfully so, the opportunity to find meaningful work, to find stable housing, to advance their education, and really secure economic stability.”

Healthier Colorado estimates that roughly 1.3 million people in the state will be eligible to have their records sealed. Colorado joins eight other states in making the move to seal criminal records.

Piccola says this is what the criminal justice system is supposed to do — rehabilitate offenders and help them to become productive members of society.

“I just want everyone to know that a record doesn't mean you're a bad person," Piccola said. "A record means you made a mistake, we all make mistakes."

Back at Goodwill, Smith hopes the new law will encourage other employers to take a chance on these employees.

“They're reliable, they're hungry, they want to change their lives,” Smith said.

Records would be sealed by July 1, 2024, and moving forward.