Department of Public Health and Wellness Releases Health Impact Assessment on Kentucky’s Expungement Policy

February 28, 2020

Report cover shows an African American father and daughter standing at the kitchen sink washing their handsThe Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness Center for Health Equity(CHE) has released a Health Impact Assessment (HIA) to review the influence that changes to KRS Chapter 431, Kentucky’s existing expungement policy, would have on health. Specifically, the department assessed health impacts associated with one’s ability– or lack thereof – to have their criminal record expunged.There is currently proposed legislation related to expungement under consideration in the 2020 legislative session. The report is intended to inform that as well as future changes to Kentucky’s expungement policy. 

A Health Impact Assessment is a process that brings together scientific data, health expertise and public input to identify potential health effects of proposed laws and regulations, programs, and projects.

For this assessment CHE staff conducted surveys and interviews of those seeking expungement or who have had their records expunged. They also conducted a thorough review of existing research and documentation on health impacts associated with a criminal record and expungement. The HIA provides data and recommendations, guided by a cross-section of stakeholders, to inform amendments to Kentucky’s expungement policy.

“Health Impact Assessments gather the right information to gain an understanding of how policies and programs affect our health so decision-makers can promote policies and plans that improve and protect health for all,” said Dr. Sarah Moyer, director of the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness and Chief Health Strategist for the city.  The department has been conducting Health Impact Assessments since 2017.

“Our HIA found that a criminal record can be a life sentence of poverty and poor health and disproportionately affects people of color,” Moyer said. “Felony convictions carry great stigma but individuals with any criminal record, even for charges that have been dismissed or acquitted, face barriers to opportunities and good health.”

The expungement process is available to thousands of Kentuckians, but HIA research revealed it is complicated and unaffordable for many. Efforts to make expungement more accessible through amendments to KRS Chapter 431 would help reduce health inequities and improve health outcomes for individuals living with a criminal record as well as their families. It would also help further recovery of those with substance use disorder. Research shows having a criminal record is a barrier to recovery because it limits one’s ability to access housing and employment.  Making expungement affordable is one of ten goals in Hope Healing and Recovery, Louisville’s plan for addressing substance use and misuse in Louisville.

Key finds of the HIA include:

  • Employment
    • Unemployment is correlated with a 54% increase in rates of reported poor or fair health which can manifest as increased risk for stress, high blood pressure, heart disease, and depression.
    • Overall, 27% of people who were formerly incarcerated lack employment. However, people of color fare worse with nearly 44% of Black women and 35% of Black men who were previously incarcerated lacking employment.
  • Housing
    • A felony conviction creates a barrier to safe and affordable housing. Those facing unstable housing are seven times more likely to reoffend than those with stable housing.
  • Family
    • According to the National Survey of Children’s Health for the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Kentucky has the highest rate of children who have had an incarcerated parent, and nearly half of all U.S. children have at least one parent with a criminal record. Criminal records that create barriers for parents from accessing employment, housing, and government subsidies, also keep families from advancing economically.
  • Education
    • Criminal records create barriers for college admissions and prohibit certain types of financial support for pursuing higher education.
  • Local Economy
    • Nationally it is estimated that loss of employment due to criminal histories costs the U.S. economy the equivalent of 1.5-1.7 million workers and reduced the U.S. GDP by $57-65 billion in 2008 alone.

“Criminal records in this day and age stick with you for life,” said Amanda Hall, Smart on Crime Field Organizer for the ACLU of Kentucky. “Even a mere arrest without conviction can have consequences decades after the fact. A felony conviction can create permanent barriers that stand in the way of people’s ability to move on with their lives. These records are a kind of “scarlet letter” that people with convictions carry for life. They continue to haunt people as they face background checks when they apply for jobs, loans, housing, and educational opportunities. Expungement is a critical tool for battling the stigma around having a record and for fighting recidivism.”

“In 2019, Goodwill Industries of Kentucky hosted 36 expungement events statewide, serving 1,511 job seekers with background challenges,” said Dennis Ritchie, Director of Reentry Services, Goodwill Industries of Kentucky. “In 2020, Goodwill is placing an emphasis on providing expungements free of charge and ensuring participants complete the full expungement process by providing access to 16 clinics in Kentucky, ranging from Paducah to Prestonsburg.  Goodwill’s focus on providing complete expungements for participants is because of the recognized barriers an individual’s background can have on securing stable employment, housing, and other basic needs, thus making it a perfect cog in furthering Goodwill’s mission.”

A detailed copy of the Health Impact Assessment on Kentucky’s Expungement Policy can be found at www.HIA-Lou.com.