U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Racial equity in eligibility for a clean slate under automatic criminal record relief laws

NCJ Number
Law & Society Volume: 56 Issue: 3 Dated: 2022 Pages: 398-417
Date Published
20 pages

This report discusses an examination of the potential impacts of two California state policy amendments that, if incorporated, may narrow the difference between black and white men regarding criminal record relief; the document also discusses limitations of criminal history data quality.


States have begun to pass legislation to provide automatic relief for eligible criminal records, potentially reducing the lifelong collateral consequences of criminal justice involvement. Yet numerous historical examples suggest that racially neutral policies can have profoundly disparate effects across racial groups. In the case of criminal record relief, racial equity in eligibility for a clean slate has not yet been examined. The authors find that in California, one in five people with convictions met criteria for full conviction relief under the state's automatic relief laws. Yet the share of black Americans eligible for relief was lower than white Americans, reproducing racial disparities in criminal records. The authors identify two policy amendments that would reduce the share of black men in California with convictions on their criminal records from 22 percent to nine percent, thereby narrowing the difference compared to white men from 15 to seven percentage points. Put another way, an additional one in seven black men currently has a conviction record, compared to their white counterparts. This would decline to an additional one in 14 if both hypothetical policy amendments were incorporated. The authors close with discussion of criminal history data quality limitations, which pose a second key challenge to equitable implementation of automatic criminal record relief reforms nationwide. Publisher Abstract Provided

Date Published: January 1, 2022