Area of Work: EVENTS Social Justice Events Events 2020

Congressional Briefing – Undoing Racism: Removing Debilitating Criminal Penalties

Date: December 2, 2020, 3:00 to 4:30 pm EST
Location: Virtual Congressional Briefing  

After decades of mass incarceration, it is estimated somewhere between 19 and 24 million Americans have felony convictions. Many of these convictions were for nonviolent offenses. However, their penalties do not end with the completion of prison time or probation; felony convictions become lifetime burdens for all but a few who have their records expunged or sealed from public view. A felony record results in substantial barriers to employment, housing, education, and social integration. Because blacks are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system, they have been hurt the most. Expungement would be a small but significant step in undoing systemic racism.

The study by J. J. Prescott and Sonja Starr on expungement in Michigan found that within one year of expungement, an individual’s odds of being employed and earning $100 per week increase by a factor of 1.13 and 1.23 respectively. Individuals who receive expungement see a wage increase of $4,400 within one year, a 23 percent improvement over individuals whose records are not expunged. The study also found recipients of expungements have a relatively low recidivism rate, with 1.8 percent re-convicted of crimes within two years and 4.2 percent committing crimes within 5 years. The data do not establish a causal link between expungement and reduced recidivism rates but do not rule out its impact on recidivism.

Many states and the District of Columbia have enacted expungement laws within the past several years. The federal prison system has jurisdiction over far fewer inmates than states; it was responsible for 12 percent of sentenced prisoners or approximately 163,653 in 2018. About 45 percent or 73,643 federal inmates committed nonviolent offenses—drug, property crimes or civil disorder. The briefing explores proposed legislation on expungement.


Charles E Lewis Jr., a political social worker, is the founder and director of the Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy (CRISP), a nonprofit organization that works to engage social workers with the U.S. Congress. He is a lecturer at Columbia University School of Social Work, and a member of the Leadership Board of Grand Challenges for Social Work. Dr. Lewis has served as Deputy Chief of Staff and Communications Director for former Congressman Ed Towns and as a member of the faculty of Howard University School of Social Work. He earned his MSW degree in clinical counseling from Clark Atlanta University and PhD in policy, planning and policy analysis from Columbia University.


Cedric R. Hendricks is an Associate Director at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA) where he leads the agency’s Office of Legislative, Intergovernmental and Public Affairs. CSOSA is responsible for the community supervision of persons on probation, parole, and supervised release in the District of Columbia. He is also an Adjunct Professor at the University of the District of Columbia. Before joining CSOSA in January 2001, Hendricks served as Minority Deputy General Counsel for the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, a position he assumed in April 1998 and as Minority Counsel with the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee from January 1995 through March 1998. Hendricks began his career on Capitol Hill in September 1983, serving as Legislative Counsel to Congressman John Conyers, Jr. He also served as Legislative Director for Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton who represents the District of Columbia. A 1983 graduate of the Howard University School of Law, Hendricks also holds BSW and MSW degrees from Wayne State University.

Margaret Love practices law in Washington, D.C., specializing in executive clemency and restoration of rights, and sentencing and corrections policy. She is Executive Director of the Collateral Consequences Resource Center (CCRC), which includes the Restoration of Rights Project, a state-by-state survey of restoration of rights mechanisms that is available on the website of the CCRC. She has written extensively on the presidential pardon power, is lead co-author of COLLATERAL CONSEQUENCES OF CRIMINAL CONVICTION: LAW, POLICY AND PRACTICE (NACDL/West, 3d ed. 2018-2019), and serves as an Adviser to the American Law Institute’s Model Penal Code: Sentencing project. Before establishing her private practice in 1998, Ms. Love served in the U.S. Justice Department for twenty years, from 1978 to 1997, including as U.S. Pardon Attorney (1990-1997). She received her law degree from Yale, has an M.A. in Medieval History from the University of Pennsylvania, and sings in two early music groups in the Washington area.

David Muhammad, a leader in the fields of criminal justice, violence prevention, and youth development, is the Executive Director of the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform (NICJR). He also serves as the technical assistance provider for the Sierra Health Foundation’s Positive Youth Justice Initiative, providing training and consulting to several California probation departments. The former Chief Probation Officer of Alameda County (CA) Probation Department, Muhammad was responsible for overseeing 20,000 people on probation, a staff of 600, and a $90 million budget. In 2010, Muhammad was named Deputy Commissioner of the New York City Department of Probation, the nation’s second largest probation department. He also served as the Chief of Committed Services for Washington, DC’s, Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services (DYRS). His responsibilities at DYRS included 300 staff, a $42 million annual budget, a juvenile institution, and 900 youth committed to his department’s care. A graduate of Howard University’s School of Communications, David also has an extensive journalism career.

Associate Professor Carrie Pettus-Davis is one of social work’s leading experts in criminal justice and decarceration. She joined The Florida State University in summer 2018 to found and lead the Institute for Justice Research and Development, a premier trans-sector research center focused on criminal justice system innovations. Dr. Pettus-Davis is co-founder and director of the Smart Decarceration Initiative and co-leads the Promote Smart Decarceration grand challenge network, one of the 12 grand challenges identified by the Grand Challenges for Social Work initiative. Dr. Pettus-Davis engages a growing base of policymakers, business leaders, funders, advocates, practitioners, formerly incarcerated individuals, and scholars in criminal justice innovations for debate and testing. She focuses her applied research on smart decarceration of American prisons and jails through policy reform and direct practice intervention development. Pettus-Davis is particularly interested in the ways in which policies and practices can be transformed to reduce race, economic, and behavioral health disproportionality within the criminal justice system.


The event is sponsored by the Center for Social Development (CSD) at the Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis and the Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy (CRISP).