What’s next for record sealing in Virginia?

Criminal records deny people access to safe and stable housing, dependable employment, and mobility granted by an education. In turn, people are then left without resources to feed themselves and support their families. People can bear this stigma and lack of stability for decades, even for nonviolent and minor misdemeanors. The stigma is born unequally across populations in the commonwealth, as people of color are disproportionately arrested, charged, and convicted due to racial discrimination in policies and policing. 

In 2021 Virginia passed a groundbreaking criminal record bill that opened a pathway for thousands to have their records sealed. You can read more about that legislation here. However, while the criminal record-sealing bill passed in 2021 established an important foundation for reform, it does not reach far enough or take effect fast enough. 

We are calling on legislators to amend the criminal record sealing bill during the 2022 legislative session to make the record-sealing process free, equitable, far-reaching, and automatic by making the following changes: 

  • Move up the legislation’s enactment date from July 2025 to July 2023
  • Reduce the window of time without additional convictions before someone can seek to have a record sealed 
  • Remove the “lifetime limit” of sealing only two sentencing events per individual 
  • Expand the base of offenses eligible for sealing 
  • Make more offenses eligible for automatic sealing, which is when records are sealed without requiring a petition to the court 
  • Ensure the record sealing process is free for everyone

Learn more about the specifics of these policy changes here.

Learn more about the impact of record-sealing by watching this short video featuring the story of Whitmore Merrick:

We recently conducted a poll with Data for Progress to see how Virginia voters feel  expungement and record-sealing. Here are some of the results: 

  • Most survey respondents (53%) said that a person should wait 3 or fewer years before their conviction is eligible for expungement. 
  • For misdemeanor convictions specifically, a strong majority (80%) support allowing expungement eligibility after 3 years without committing another offense. 
  • More than a third of likely Virginia voters are personally acquainted with someone who has a criminal record. This is true among Democrats and Republicans alike. 
  • Half of all participants surveyed know someone who has been denied employment because of a criminal record. For a denial of housing, that number was 32%, and for a denial of education, that number was 22%. These denials leave affected people scrambling to find stability in their lives. 

The polling was conducted by Data for Progress. One survey of 595 likely voters in Virginia took place from September 3 to 13, 2021, and the other survey of 564 likely voters in Virginia took place from August 12 to 18, 2021. Both surveys used web panel respondents, and the samples were weighted to be representative of likely voters by age, gender, education, race, and voting history. Both surveys were conducted in English. The margin of error for both surveys was ±4 percentage points. 

Nolef Turns, Inc. Executive Director Sheba Williams shares her story and explains why expungement is important:

Changing the record-sealing bill to make record sealing equitable, far-reaching, automatic, and free is essential. Here is more information on what changes need to be made to the policy and why each is necessary: 

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