More than a million of the criminal convictions in New York over more than a generation date back 20 years ago and earlier, according to a wide-ranging report released Monday by the Data Collaborative for Justice at John Jay College.
Researchers analyzed more than 6.6 million convictions between 1980 and 2021, finding many of the convictions disproportionately have affected Black New Yorkers.
The report is being released as state lawmakers and Gov. Kathy Hochul are considering a measure to seal many criminal records in New York. Supporters of the measure, known as the Clean Slate Act, have pointed to data showing the difficulty for people with criminal convictions on their records to obtain a job or housing once their sentence is complete.
“The vast majority of people in New York with conviction records have not had a new conviction in decades. But their punishment goes far beyond any official short-term sentence,” said Olive Lu, the associate director of Research at the Data Collaborative for Justice. “What’s more, the harms are felt most by Black and Hispanic New Yorkers and their communities, perpetuating inequality.”
Data highlighted in the report provide a bird's eye view of the criminal justice system in New York.
The rate of convictions in the state peaked between 1990 and 2010, rising sharply in the 1980s and ranging between 170,000 and 200,000 convictions a year between 1990 and 2010.
Convictions dropped to 109,000 in 2010 and have declined significantly since then.
Between 1985 and 2021, 42% of the convictions in New York involved Black people, though they comprised 15% of the state's population in 2019; 20% of convictions involved Hispanic people and 36% of the people convicted were white.
Any many of the convictions for New Yorkers date back years. The most recent conviction dating back more than 20 years ago was for 47% of all people, the report found.
“This analysis, which builds on analysis we were proud to support in 2021, is critical for any policymaker who wants to support New Yorkers in living productive and full lives post-conviction and incarceration,” said Susan Shah, the managing director of Racial Justice at Trinity Church Wall Street, which funded the research. “There are over 2 million New Yorkers—mostly people of color—who are being perpetually punished and denied housing, jobs, and family unity.”
In Albany, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie this month said the measure to many criminal records is being considered for a vote in his chamber, where the bill has not passed over the last several years. The legislative session is scheduled to end on June 8.
Republicans have criticized the proposal as lawmakers have been pressured to make changes to New York's criminal justice laws, including the law that ended cash bail requirements for many criminal charges.
"I think it’s a very dangerous proposal because there are some jobs out there that you want to know some peoples’ backgrounds," Republican Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay said.