2024 Legislative Recap: Expungement

Following last year’s REDEEM Act, which significantly expanded expungement eligibility by lowering most waiting periods for eligible convictions, advocates pressed this year for several expungement improvements that are still sorely needed. The 2024 legislative session ended with no substantive change to Maryland’s expungement law, but MVLS presents this wrap-up for advocates looking for a status check on expungement issues.

Violations of Probation (Abhishek override)
The Abhishek appellate case, which you can read about here, severely limits expungement access, essentially blocking all expungement opportunities for people who ever violated their probation. Advocates were hopeful that legislators would understand the devastating impact of this ruling and override the court decisions with a slight change to the expungement statute. Unfortunately, this bill did not make it through committee hearings in the Senate. Until this issue can be solved, nearly half of all Marylanders with otherwise eligible convictions will not benefit from the REDEEM Act.

Unit Rule and Automatic Expungement
Long a hot topic among expungement advocates, the elimination of the unit rule seems to inch closer every year only to be stalled just before the finish line. Under Maryland’s expungement law, the “unit rule” states that only cases can be expunged, not charges. In other words, a person cannot expunge individual charges from a case, even if they were not found guilty, when that same case includes an ineligible charge. An exception now exists for cannabis charges, but the unit rule still prevents many people from expunging charges, even in the event of a not-guilty verdict.

Similarly, the automatic expungement of eligible offenses, or at least all charges resulting in a dropped prosecution or a not guilty, has been a goal for expungement advocates. Such a bill passed in 2021, but does not apply retroactively. A bill to expand auto-expungement to all eligible cases, including the immense backlog of eligible cases from before 2021, was on the table this year. It did not pass committee hearings.

Another bill that sought to eliminate the unit rule technically passed, though it was amended to remove any substantive change to the expungement statute. Instead, the bill as passed only requires the Maryland judiciary to include the technological capability of partial expungement and automatic expungement in any contracts for future system upgrades.

Other issues
Two more expungement bills died in committee this year. One would have expanded the availability of “good cause expungements” whereby a person might petition the court for expungement of an otherwise ineligible case, and have the opportunity to present to the court their reasons for why the expungement should be granted. Supporters of the bill believe this would address the gaps in the current statutory framework, where many people with minor misdemeanors remain ineligible for expungement due to illogical omissions in the eligibility requirements.

Another bill that did not pass would have allowed for the expungement of a DUI when the defendant was given probation before judgment and subsequently went 15 years without a criminal conviction of any kind. Currently, a case of this kind can never be expunged.

Maryland Lawmakers Take Steps Toward Improving Resources for Returning Citizens 

While advocates across the United States observed Second Chance Month this April, a month dedicated to honoring work that aims to remove barriers faced by citizens returning from incarceration, Maryland lawmakers made some key progress in crafting reentry-focused policy. 

Two bills passed during Maryland’s 2024 legislative session, Senate Bill 1036 and Senate Bill 181, are poised to expand state resources for returning citizens in Maryland. Senate Bill 1036 establishes the Task Force on the Creation of a Division of Returning Citizens and Expanded Reentry Services. The bill ultimately requires the task force to assess reentry services existing in Maryland, identify gaps in such services, and submit a report on recommended service expansion. Individuals required to be appointed to the task force include representatives from specific governmental and nonprofit entities, as well as one individual who was formerly incarcerated in a State correctional facility, and two family members of incarcerated individuals. 

Senate Bill 181 authorizes the Governor to grant funds to certain nonprofits that provide training in automotive repair to incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals. The bill specifically requires qualifying nonprofits to place at least 50 percent of participants in a paid automotive repair job. This legislation is currently set to remain effective until the end of fiscal year 2028.

Senate Bills 1036 and 181 expand the type of crucial reentry planning needed in Maryland and throughout the United States in order to improve the ability of formerly incarcerated individuals to secure employment and housing. In 2022, a study of employment following incarceration found that the employment rate for individuals four years after release was between 34.9 percent and 37.9 percent, meaning about two-thirds were unemployed. Correspondingly, 570 out of every 10,000 formerly incarcerated people are housing insecure. Research also shows important cyclical connections between homelessness and recidivism, as people who have been incarcerated multiple times are more likely to become homeless, and experiencing homelessness increases one’s likelihood of reincarceration. In direct contrast, multiple studies have shown that secure housing is capable of reducing recidivism rates. Senate Bill 1036 requires the task force to “assess markers of successful reentry” in Maryland, and there is no doubt that thoughtful consideration of employment and housing resources will be required in order to prompt a change in Maryland’s recidivism rate, which currently sits at 40 percent within three years of release.  

Although they did not pass this session, two other bills focused on improving workforce development resources for returning citizens were introduced this year and are worthy of tracking in 2025. Both bills recognize the need to provide employment preparation while individuals are still incarcerated. House Bill 1405 would require DPSCS to offer an apprenticeship program in skilled trades that would equip individuals with practical job skills prior to their release and allow them to save wages while incarcerated. Senate Bill 1017 goes one step further, requiring Maryland Correctional Enterprises to develop individual employment plans for their program participants to obtain employment within the first 60 days of their parole. 

Maryland has also made an impactful reform to parole related policy this year with the passage of House Bill 531, which repeals the requirement of the Maryland Parole Commission (MPC) to collect $50 monthly supervision fees from parolees and repeals MPC’s authorization to require parolees to pay for drug and alcohol testing fees. The last comprehensive study that assessed grounds for parole revocations in Maryland found that over 70 percent of parole revocations resulting in reincarceration are for technical violations, which include the failure to pay fees to MPC. Further, reports show that between 2017 and 2021, Maryland processed 4,449 parole revocations among individuals released from state correctional facilities, and about two-thirds of such revocations were for Black individuals, exemplifying the reality that reentry issues in need of reform often present opportunities to address systemic inequity within the legal system as well. 

While the month of April has passed by quickly, the spirit of Second Chance Month is alive all year long in Maryland, as passionate advocates and individuals pursuing reentry work to build community. 

For individuals searching for free civil legal assistance in areas such as consumer issues, criminal record relief, estate planning and administration, family law, income tax controversy, and more please reach out to Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS). You can access the MVLS website or call for phone intake at 410-547-6537 or (1)800-510-0050, Monday-Thursday, 9am-12pm.

Maryland Bar Journal Volume 5 Issue 3: “Analyzing Violation of Probation Objections to Expungement After Abhishek I.” By George Townsend, and Allison Stillinghagan

In an article recently published by the Maryland Bar Journal, MVLS’ Workforce Development Attorney, George Townsend, and Human Trafficking Prevention Program Staff Attorney, Allison Stillinghagan, team-up to explain the Abhishek decision itself, pre-Abhishek case law relating to expungement eligibility, and the legislative history of expungement statutes, all of which support a narrow application of Abhishek to specific cases in which a sentence of probation after conviction was closed as “unsatisfied”.

MVLS Featured in The AFRO, “Commentary: Expungement Laws Are Too Complicated — We Need a Simple, Accessible System”

Did you know an estimated 1.5 million Maryland residents have a criminal record– which is a quarter of our state’s population. Check out this new article in The Afro from MVLS Workforce Development Manager, Chris Sweeney to learn what changes to our justice system would make life more accessible for returning citizens.

MVLS Featured in the Baltimore Banner, “Expungement eligibility change would remove obstacles to jobs, housing”

Read this commentary, published in the Baltimore Banner, and learn how potential changes in expungement legislation could reduce employment barriers and create workforce stabilization. Featuring MVLS Workforce Attorney, George Townsend, and HTPP Staff Attorney, Allison Stillinghagan.

Reflecting on United Way of Central Maryland’s Workforce Leadership Academy 

This past December, I had the honor of speaking to a room of stakeholders and advocates in Baltimore’s workforce ecosystem, and presenting recommendations to improve the economic stability of the region. This opportunity was the result of United Way of Central Maryland’s Workforce Leadership Academy, a year-long fellowship for which I was selected in early 2023. I was proud to represent MVLS in the Academy, and now that the program has ended we wanted to share a reflection on this unique experience. 

The December presentation, made by myself and four other fellows, was the culmination of our year of deep discussion and reflection on our experience working with job seekers in the greater Baltimore area. Twenty fellows were selected from a variety of fields, all working in the Baltimore region and all with a perspective on the struggles and successes of our area’s workforce system. The Academy is a nation-wide program presented by the Aspen Institute, and United Way was selected to administer Baltimore’s local cohort. United Way’s vast institutional knowledge, array of connections, and passion for the Baltimore region made them a wonderful host organization.  

Our convenings throughout 2023 featured guest speakers, overnight retreats, and stimulating discussions. One of the recurring themes of our conversations was how, despite continued efforts to increase access to supportive programs and job training, practitioners are always surprised by how many people simply do not know about what is available to them. This lack of awareness is pronounced in groups that many fellows work to support – vulnerable populations like formerly incarcerated people and youth in unstable living conditions.  

United Way gave us an opportunity at the end of our fellowship to present recommendations to funders, elected officials, and other stakeholders who have a passion for improving Baltimore’s economic prospects. The fellows were divided into four groups, but ultimately our presentations focused on smaller parts of a larger idea, which was to further centralize the workforce development system in the region. My group’s focus was on the successes of initiatives like One Baltimore for Jobs and the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development’s Vision for a Coordinated Workforce System. We identified what these kinds of projects did well, and what gaps still remain. We received a lot of positive feedback and many funders indicated interest in pursuing the ideas presented.  

As a result of this unique opportunity to convene with experts in workforce development, I got to know many incredible people who are working to make the Baltimore region a better place to live and work. The fellows have continued to stay in touch, and Aspen Institute is hosting follow-up conversations throughout the year. I hope that the strong connections we made during the Academy can foster real change through seeing some of our ideas enacted. I am thankful to MVLS and our board for their support throughout my tenure as a fellow in this program.  

Indie Soul Magazine Podcast: The Link Between Structural Racism, Expungement, and the Justice System, Featuring Chris Sweeney

MVLS’ Workforce Development Manager, Chris Sweeney was recently featured on the Indie Soul Magazine Podcast discussing the link between structural racism, expungement and the justice system. Additionally, recognizing recent success, but acknowledging how much work is still to be done. Learn more below!

MVLS Featured in The Baltimore Times “Common issues with your birth certificate and what to do about them”

Your birth certificate is one of the most important identification documents you have – containing vital information about you, your birth and your family. Learn how to prepare for common issues and steps on how to obtain your birth certificate in the Baltimore Times featuring MVLS’ Workforce Development Attorney, George Townsend.