CNN Hails Activist Pushing Laws Hiding People's Criminal Records

November 17th, 2023 6:09 PM

Sheena Meade Poppy Harlow Phil Mattingly CNN This Morning 11-17-23 "Sheena, the work you've done is extraordinary."

"It's incredible."

That was CNN This Morning co-anchors Poppy Harlow and Phil Mattingly, respectively, gushing on Friday over Sheena Meade, an activist who promotes "Clean Slate" laws in states across the country.

The interview came the day after Democratic New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed that state's version into law, the twelfth state to do so.

The law sealed the criminal records, including some serious felonies, of convicts if they don't get convicted again after a certain number of years. So employers, landlords, and others would have no way of knowing whether they were hiring or renting to convicted felons.

When Harlow cited some of the objections to the law that have been raised, Meade claimed that when she travels around the country she hears only people agreeing with her views, and that "I don't hear a lot of that pushback and opposition." 

Not surprising, considering the circles in which Meade presumably travels.  

Note that Meade and other supporters of these laws cast "discrimination" as the decision of employers or landlords not to hire or rent to convicted felons. Was it discrimination -- or simple good sense -- not to bring people with a history of violent crimes, including attempted murder or gang assault, into one's workplace or property? 

Without this law, nothing would stop employers or landlords from hiring people with criminal records, if convinced the applicants no longer presented significant risks. But these laws take that possibility away. People would have no way of knowing whether applicants had a history of violent criminal behavior.

Also, note that a standard liberal technique was employed to promote the law: offering the most sympathetic case possible. As Harlow described it, Meade had been arrested "in front of her children" after she bounced an $87 check "for groceries." She was apparently jailed for that, and after being released, found herself barred from jobs, housing, and even colleges. 

Did CNN verify Meade's story? Had she had previous run-ins with the law, or was she actually jailed for the first-time crime of bouncing a small check?

The transcript is below. Click "expand" to read:

CNN This Morning
6:54 am EDT

KATHY HOCHUL: I believe that the best anti-crime tool we have is a job. [Cheers and applause ]

POPPY HARLOW: That was New York Governor Kathy Hochul just yesterday, signing the Clean Slate law. It allows people convicted of crimes, if they serve their sentence and stay out of trouble for a set period of time, to have their records sealed. New York is now the 12th state to enact a law like this. It goes into effect one year from now and it could impact two million people in New York. 

Sheena Meade, of The Clean Slate Initiative, which pushed for this law and laws like it all over the country, is personally invested in this legislation. Almost two decades ago was arrested in front of her children after an $87 check she wrote for groceries bounced. 

And when she paid back the money immediately after release, including the fees for getting arrested and going to jail, she thought that chapter of her life was over. But it wasn't.

SHEENA MEADE [giving a speech]: That arrest and conviction remained on my record. And at that moment I realized that my true sentence had just begun. Because you know what? I was no longer allowed to volunteer at my children's school. I could no longer rent where I wanted to rent, because it is legal for landlords to discriminate against a person with a record. I even faced barriers trying to go to college. And still to this day I am excluded from certain certifications and occupational licence. All I could keep asking myself, is damn, when will my sentence end?

HARLOW: And Sheena joins us now. It must just be surreal for you to see this now in 12 states across the country given what you experienced.

MEADE: Yes. Yesterday, [inaudible] the governor has signed a bill. And with the stroke of a pen, we saw 2.3 million people's lives change. Access to housing, access to jobs. Barriers removed. Opportunities unlocked. It was a joyous moment yesterday.

PHIL MATTINGLY: Were you, I think what's most -- the most amazing thing about the legislative victory, not to get into the weeds of this stuff, is, the moment the country's in right now on issues of crime, on issues of people concerned about their public safety. That type of moment insures stuff like that can't pass. We saw the opposition from the state Senate Republican leader, talking about concerns about various pieces of this. Why were you able to get this done, despite that opposition?

MEADE: You know, we have one in three Americans that have a criminal record, arrest or conviction. It's close to home. People believe in second chances or redemption. People remember the moment that they were given a second chance. Where they asked for another chance. And so, I believe that our country, our foundation is based off of second chances. And so I believe that folks believe that this is a common-sense policy. You know? 

It's a workforce issue. We have employers who cannot hire people because people are locked out of jobs and employment due to an arrest or conviction.

. . .

HARLOW: But there is a lot of pushback from the right here in state of New York. I should note that the most serious crimes, including murder and sex crimes and most other Class A felonies are not part of this. There was a change before this got passed.

But what about Republicans who say things like, look, attempted murder, gang assault, arson are included? Or, you heard also from a New York state senator, Dean Murray, who said the full criminal records of potential tenants will not be available to landlords. Or, people who had crimes against children may be allowed to work with children again. What is your response to that criticism?

MEADE: You know, Poppy, that's a great question. But what I hear when I travel across thecountry in red and blue states, and I talk to Republicans and liberals, they're saying that this is a public safety issue that we have to put people back to work. People need to have an access to jobs, housing. Have an alternative measure of not going back to prison. Reducing recidivism. They know that when people have access to jobs, that it reduces recidivism. It's a public safety measure, and we get people back to work.

And so, I don't hear a lot of that pushback and opposition across the country. I hear people saying that this is an opportunity for us to put people back to work and help our economy.

. . . 

There is a responsibility for the workforce to say now, welcome back into the workforce, into labor. Let's, let's build our economy together. 

HARLOW: Sheena, the work you've done is extraordinary.

MATTINGLY: It's incredible. Thank you so much for coming in, Sheena.