Nathalie Baptiste

Nathalie Baptiste is a writing fellow at The American Prospect

Recent Articles

Pennsylvania Offers Clean Slate to Ex-Offenders

Pennsylvania is poised to become the first state in the nation to limit access to criminal records for certain nonviolent offenders. In April, the Pennsylvania General Assembly took up the consideration of bills that aim to help ex-offenders reintegrate into society without the permanent stigma of a criminal record.

Under the Clean Slate Act, people convicted of nonviolent misdemeanors would have their criminal records automatically sealed after ten years. Juvenile records would be sealed after seven years and records for most minor offenses, known as summary offenses in Pennsylvania, would be sealed after five years. People who are charged with an offense, but not convicted of a crime, will have those records sealed after 60 days. Today, eligible ex-offenders must hire an attorney or file a petition to have their records sealed. Nearly three million Pennsylvanians have criminal records.

The Pennsylvania Senate Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to move its bill to the Senate on Tuesday and the House Judiciary Committee is expected to follow suit with its plan, which is identical to the Senate version. The bills have broad support from Democrats and Republicans in the General Assembly as well as from Democratic Governor Tom Wolf. “We’re hearing nothing but three cheers for ‘clean slate’ across the aisle,” says Rebecca Vallas, the managing director of the Center for American Progress’s Poverty to Prosperity program.

The bill garnered praise early on from a bipartisan coalition working on criminal justice reform. “We’re encouraged that Pennsylvania is taking a step forward to improve access to jobs and remove hurdles to educational opportunities for residents across the Commonwealth,” said Andy Hoover, the ACLU of Pennsylvania’s legislative director, in a statement.

Tim Head, executive director of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, a right-wing Christian non-profit based in Georgia, released a statement calling the bill an “important first step in putting a stop to the vicious cycle of incarceration and, instead, providing an opportunity at redemption for those exiting the justice system and working to rebuild their lives.”

A criminal record can hinder a person’s access to housing, employment, and education opportunities, which are critical ways to get re-established in a community. In turn, the failure to get back on one’s feet after being released from prison helps fuel recidivism rates among ex-offenders. State recidivism rates have been declining, but 60 percent of ex-convicts in Pennsylvania re-offend within three years, according to state Department of Corrections data.

Vallas believes that many people will no longer face these barriers under the new law. “I think it is safe to say that it’ll be in the hundreds of thousands,” she says.  Other states are also likely to enact “clean slate” laws. Last fall, Michigan Republican Senator Rick Jones announced his intention to introduce similar legislation.

Maryland Senate Race Comes Down to Turnout

High voter turnout, especially in Baltimore and among Sanders supporters, could give Donna Edwards the edge in the competitive Democratic primary.

(Photo: AP/Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
(Photo: AP/Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call) Representatives Chris Van Hollen and Donna Edwards, Democratic candidates for Senate, participate in a forum in Gwynn Oak, Maryland, on April 9. M arylanders head to the polls Tuesday to decide who will likely replace Senator Barbara Mikulski, the longest-serving woman in the Senate, who is retiring after 30 years on Capitol Hill. The Democratic primary race has pitted white establishment progressive Chris Van Hollen against black populist insurgent Donna Edwards in a highly competitive contest largely defined by race. Van Hollen polls well among whites, and Edwards shows robust support from African American voters. But the key to the victory runs through Baltimore, where Edwards holds an edge over Van Hollen and a mayoral primary race is likely to increase turnout. A Monmouth University poll conducted last week was the first to show any candidate with a double–digit lead and Van Hollen jumped way out in front: 52 percent of likely Democratic...

Lawmakers Push For Sentencing Reform Ahead of Elections

A bipartisan reform measure could shrink the federal prison population by 60,000—if it can pass the Senate before November. 

AP Photo/Brynn Anderson
AP Photo/Brynn Anderson In this June 18, 2015, photo, a prisoner walks near his crowded living area in Elmore Correctional Facility in Elmore, Alabama. W hen Senator Chuck Grassley, the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, introduced a major sentencing reform bill last October, his move signaled that Congress intended to take decisive action on revamping the country’s draconian sentencing laws. With the November elections on the horizon and Americans souring on their status as the country with the world’s largest prison population, federal lawmakers may pick up the pace on crafting a reform package. The Iowa Republican’s bill, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 , aims to reduce mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug offenses and promote re-entry services for offenders who are nearing the end of their sentences. The bill would also apply provisions of the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act retroactively: Crack cocaine offenders sentenced after August 3, 2010, would be...

Maryland Senate Showdown Pits Left Against Lefter

In the state's Senate primary, an establishment progressive faces a more progressive outsider. Sound familiar?

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/AP Images
Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/AP Images Representative Donna Edwards speaks during a Maryland Senate candidate forum with Representative Chris Van Hollen at Woodlawn Senior Center in Gwynn Oak, Maryland, April 9, 2016. This article appears in the Spring 2016 issue of The American Prospect magazine . Subscribe here . T he atmosphere in the room feels more like an old-school black church than it does a campaign event. The crowd that has assembled in Baltimore’s Charles North neighborhood—mostly black women greeting each other like long-lost friends and making small talk—is awaiting the arrival of Democratic Representative Donna Edwards of Maryland’s Fourth District, which is centered in the Washington, D.C., suburbs of the predominantly African American Prince George’s County. Edwards is running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Barbara Mikulski, who, after serving 30 years, announced her retirement last March. Since Maryland is a reliably blue state (the election of Republican...

Right to Counsel for Louisiana’s Indigent Defendants Remains at Risk

Massive cuts to the state's public-defender budget will only increase the number of low-level defendants awaiting legal representation in overcrowded jails.

(Photo: Shutterstock)
(Photo: Shutterstock) L ouisiana’s public-defender crisis may well cement the Bayou State’s position as the country’s prison capital. The Louisiana Public Defender Board has seen its budget slashed as state lawmakers try to stanch the red ink flowing out of Baton Rouge. This latest round of cutbacks promises to further compromise the agency’s ability to provide poor criminal defendants with legal counsel. The crisis has forced Louisiana public-defender offices across the state to lay off attorneys and cut the salaries of the employees who stay on. In fiscal year 2017, state public-defender offices will only receive $12.8 million, down from $33 million the previous year, a 61 percent cut. Burdened with unmanageable caseloads, the remaining public defenders are unable to consult with with every defendant who needs representation. In some Louisiana parishes (subdivisions comparable to counties), public defenders struggle with caseloads approaching 1,000 felonies annually. The National...