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Buffalo Common Council puts full support behind NY's proposed Clean Slate bill

Buffalo Common Councilmember Rasheed Wyatt, Oct 5, 2021
Michael Mroziak
Buffalo Common Councilmember Rasheed Wyatt speaks outside City Hall Tuesday, following a meeting during which the Council voted unanimously to approve a resolution supporting New York State's proposed Clean Slate legislation.

Buffalo lawmakers are united in a call to their state counterparts to pass the New York Clean Slate bill in 2022.

The legislation, if passed, would automatically seal conviction records for individuals who complete their prison sentence, probation or parole, or both. They must also not be charged or convicted of any other crimes in New York State during their waiting period.

Those convicted of misdemeanors would have their records sealed three years after their sentencing date. Those convicted of felonies would have records sealed seven years after sentencing. Convictions for sexual offenses, however, are ineligible under the Clean Slate bill.

The Common Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to approve a resolution, introduced by Councilmember Rasheed Wyatt, which supports passage of the bill.

“This is justice reform in reality,” Wyatt said outside City Hall following the Common Council’s meeting. “When we talk about justice reform, and we talk about individuals who have been incarcerated, we look at: how do we bring them home? And how do we help them be productive citizens?”

Supporters of the bill say those who have completed their sentences and are trying to re-enter society are often times held back from work and housing opportunities because of their criminal record. Tyrell Ford was convicted ten years ago of felony assault. He has served his time and since earned a master’s degree.

He says having that conviction on his public record has increased his struggle to support his family.

“I committed a crime 10 years ago, and it's just a weight. It does weigh in on my family. And that's not just my family, there's 2.3 million folks affected in New York State that are doing that,” he said. “They have that passion, that fire to want to work and give back to the society in which they are forgotten. With Clean Slate, it means so much to give us a second chance to build on a life that we thought was lost. We want that chance to prove that our record, our past, is just that – the past.”

The bill stalled in the State Legislature this summer over concerns by some for some of its provisions. Local lawmakers speaking Tuesday suggest the bill will likely undergo some revisions before it’s brought up for a vote.

Council President Darius Pridgen says what’s important to recognize is the bill does not amount to a “get out of jail free” card. Rather, he argues, it’s something that may keep them from going back to jail.

“If we don't give them that opportunity, we've seen what the results are. We've seen where they get out and many go back to a life of crime, because they can't get a job, they can't get certain help for school, they can't participate,” Pridgen said. “And if they can't participate, then the question is, what does it mean then to pay your debt to society, if after you have paid your debt to society, you must continue to pay?”

Tanvier Peart of the Partnership for the Public Good stated that the Buffalo Common Council is the first Western New York municipal government to put its support behind Clean Slate. She’s now urging Western New Yorkers to make their presence felt and pressure Albany lawmakers when they start their new session in January.

“To everybody who says and questions where the upstate folks are, where the organizers are, directly impacted people are, we're out here,” Peart said. “And to all the state legislators, we’ll see you in Albany because come January 2022, we're getting this passed.”

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.