WASHINGTON – Legislation led by U.S. Sens. Chris Coons (D-Del.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) to expand expungement, advanced through the Senate Judiciary Committee this week with bipartisan support. The Kenneth P. Thompson Begin Again Act would expand eligibility for the expungement of a first-time simple federal drug possession offense to include individuals who are 21 or older, providing low-level drug offenders a second chance without a federal conviction. Under the current Reagan-era statute, 18 U.S.C. § 3607, expungement is only available to first-time drug offenders under the age of 21.
“Criminal records create significant barriers to finding work, housing, education, and making a new start in life,” said Senator Coons. “If we are to believe in second chances – that first-time drug offenders, no matter their age, deserve to pursue a productive life – we must expand eligibility for expungement. I am proud that this legislation has strong support from my colleagues on both sides of the aisle who want to provide Americans the opportunity to become productive members of our communities without the burden of a criminal record.”
"Part of criminal justice reform is ensuring that rehabilitated individuals are able to move on with their lives and get a second chance,” said Senator Cornyn. “Those who successfully complete court-imposed probation for low-level possession should be able to have their records cleared, and this legislation would do just that.”
“The War on Drugs didn’t end drug trafficking or addiction. It led to an era of mass incarceration that's unjust and fiscally unsustainable,” said Senator Durbin. “Expanding eligibility for the expungement of a first-time simple possession offense would allow these non-violent offenders the chance to better their lives and contribute to our communities.”
“First-time, non-violent drug possession offenses should not impede the ability for individuals who have reformed themselves to find jobs, housing, and education their whole lives,” said Senator Tillis. “I am proud the Judiciary Committee passed this bipartisan legislation that would remove the age restriction for expungement so we can give non-violent, productive members of our community a second chance at a successful life.”
“Far too often, punishment does not end once a sentence is completed, but rather has a lasting impact for subsequent years and in many cases a lifetime. A criminal record results in thousands of collateral consequences affecting individuals’ and families’ everyday lives that are often overlooked by the public and the judiciary. Even misdemeanor offenses can have serious implications on an individual’s ability to find steady employment, obtain housing, and access public assistance,” said a coalition of 14 supporting organizations in a joint letter, including law enforcement and both sides of the political spectrum. “[W]e strongly support swift passage of the Kenneth P. Thompson Begin Again Act.”
The Kenneth P. Thompson Begin Again Act is supported by the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans for Prosperity, Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, Due Process Institute, Fair and Just Prosecution, Fraternal Order of Police, National District Attorneys Association, Major Cities Chiefs Association, FreedomWorks, Faith & Freedom Coalition, Justice Action Network, Law Enforcement Action Partnership, Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime & Incarceration, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Prison Fellowship, R Street Institute, Right on Crime, and the Safer Foundation.