The Clean Slate Initiative (CSI), a bipartisan national movement to automate the clearing of criminal records that block second chances for tens of millions of Americans, is proud to bring on Sheena Meade as Managing Director.
Sheena, a longtime social justice advocate and a leader of the successful campaign to restore voting rights to 1.4 million disenfranchised people in Florida, is CSI’s first Managing Director. She starts her role as CSI also announces new commitments from leading funders, including Arnold Ventures, Ballmer Group, and the Justice and Mobility Fund – a collaboration between Blue Meridian Partners and the Ford Foundation with support from the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation. These new funders join the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI), which helped launch CSI in 2018.
“We are thrilled to welcome Sheena Meade as a leader of the Clean Slate Initiative at a critical moment in this growing bipartisan movement,” reads a statement from CSI’s Steering Committee. “With her lifelong work to build long-term, sustainable change for communities, Sheena rounds out the diverse and deep skill sets across the Initiative and will help drive the success of these state and local efforts — leading to a better future for tens of millions of Americans.”
CSI’s Steering Committee is comprised of representatives from Center for American Progress, Code for America, the Crime and Justice Institute, and the R Street Institute.
Following decades of overcriminalization—between 70 million and 100 million Americans have some type of criminal record—nearly half of children in America have a parent with a record. In the digital era, with nearly 9 in 10 employers now using criminal background checks, any criminal record—no matter how old or minor—can be a life sentence to poverty. Tens of millions of these folks are eligible to have their records expunged or sealed in court. But the complex process for filing a record-clearing petition—not to mention the exorbitant legal costs—means the vast majority never get the relief they need.
“I know from experience how painful it can be to live with a criminal record… watching my loved ones being held back because of old criminal records inspired me to find my purpose and passion: dismantling barriers for impacted people and their families,” said Sheena. “In joining CSI, I am taking that pain and turning it into power. I’m honored to join this initiative, with a mission that is more important than ever. Together, we’ll continue building a movement to translate millions of those same pain points to create policies that will give millions of people a smoother path to find their own purposes and lead happier, healthier fuller lives.”
Clean slate policies provide an alternative to the outdated petition-based process and offer a technological solution: automated record-clearing for people who remain crime-free for a set period of time. Clean slate policies have already passed in Pennsylvania and Utah with overwhelming bipartisan support, and New Jersey has passed a measure that moves toward automated record clearing. In Pennsylvania alone, 33 million records have already been cleared thanks to this law, and bipartisan demand for this commonsense reform is growing.
As the country grapples with record unemployment amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it is especially critical that elected leaders enact policies like clean slate. This policy will help ensure an equitable and inclusive recovery and that people with criminal records — already particularly vulnerable to unemployment and job loss — are not left behind in an economic recovery. A 2018 analysis by the Prison Policy Initiative estimates that formerly incarcerated people were already facing an unemployment rate of over 27 percent — “higher than the overall U.S. unemployment rate during any historical period, including the Great Depression.” Before the COVID-19 pandemic forced state legislatures across the country to recess or adjourn, several states were considering clean slate proposals — and these are likely to be taken up again when work resumes.
Sheena will work closely with a diverse set of partners to support state efforts to advance and implement clean slate policies across the country, including: the Crime and Justice Institute; the American Conservative Union; Code for America; R Street Institute; Forward Justice; the Center for American Progress and Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, which co-developed the clean slate model; and others.
“As a skilled campaigner who was instrumental in passing Amendment 4, the law which reinstated voting rights to people with criminal records in Florida in 2018, and as someone who is personally close to these issues, Sheena is uniquely qualified to move CSI’s work forward at this critical moment,” said Jolene Forman, CZI’s Manager of Criminal Justice Policy and CSI’s advisory board chair. “For too long it has been far too difficult for people with criminal records to get their lives back on track, not only because of long-held stigmas, but also because of limited access to the very things that are critical to people leading productive lives ― jobs, education, housing and community support.”
For more information, including the full Clean Slate Initiative press release about Sheena’s hiring, visit cleanslateinitiative.org.