Sen. Eric Brakey seeks to give former lawbreakers a second chance

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AUGUSTA — In a bid to help nonviolent criminals get a second chance, an Auburn state senator is seeking to allow some to have their records expunged five years after they finish serving their sentences.

The way it is now, said Republican Sen. Eric Brakey, some people “have this scarlet letter on their record for some stupid mistake” they made years earlier that they simply can’t escape.

Sometimes, he said, he’ll talk with a guy convicted 20 years ago of a youthful misadventure “and it’s still screwing up their lives.”

Brakey said the measure he’s pushing would allow some people to clear their criminal histories.

He said people who haven’t committed a violent or especially serious offense ought to have a shot at getting a second chance so they can live up to their potential.

The measure, titled “An Act To Authorize the Expungement of Records of Nonviolent Crimes,” would allow some people convicted of Class E, D or C crimes to petition a court to expunge the records of their crime five years after they complete their sentence.

The option would not be available for anybody with previous convictions or pending charges. Those convicted of violent crimes, sex offenses or crimes involving victims who are children or the elderly would not be allowed to participate, either.

If their records are expunged, Brakey said, they would no longer have to check the box on employment applications admitting they’d been arrested or convicted in the past — something that often keeps former convicts from finding good jobs.

Brakey said there are many people who “want to move on” and be productive citizens, but they have a hard time because of their past.

He said the bill is one that appeals to him as a conservative libertarian. It has bipartisan support, he said, but will probably face bipartisan opposition from some as well.

The proposal is modeled on a law recently adopted in Kentucky, part of a national movement to try to give some criminal offenders a better shot at getting their lives together.

In Kentucky, the measure got wide support. One backer, Louisville Democrat Darryl Owens, said the bill “is about redemption. It’s about second chances. It’s about acknowledging that there, but for the grace of God, could go each of us,” according to an account in the Lexington Herald Leader.

One of the issues that almost hung up the bill in Kentucky — about whether it would allow former convicts to vote — is irrelevant in Maine, which has no ban on voting by those who are convicted of any crime.

Brakey said he’s interested in criminal justice reform issues, so he’s eager to pursue the legislation.

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