WASHINGTON, DC – This week, Representatives Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and Van Taylor (R-TX) introduced the Kenneth P. Thompson Begin Again Act. The bipartisan legislation would allow judges to expunge the records of low-level drug offenders to provide them with a second chance. Thompson served as the District Attorney of Kings County, New York, from 2014 until his passing in 2016 and would have turned 55 on Sunday, March 14.
“Ken Thompson was a groundbreaking district attorney who elevated the integrity and fairness of the criminal justice system in Kings County to unprecedented heights. He was a transformational figure in the fight for criminal justice reform nationally and a staunch defender of the safety and security of Brooklynites at home,” said Congressman Jeffries. “I am honored to introduce legislation to carry forward my friend’s remarkable legacy by allowing low-level drug offenders an opportunity at a second chance to pursue their God-given potential. I thank Rep. Taylor and all the cosponsors for their support.”
“First time, non-violent drug offenses shouldn’t carry a life sentence, yet the reality is such crimes often prevent offenders from living full, productive lives as a result of their criminal record,” said lead Republican of the legislation, Congressman Van Taylor. “The Kenneth P. Thompson Begin Again Act will expunge certain criminal records, providing these individuals the opportunity to move forward from past mistakes and contribute to their communities. I’m proud to partner with Congressman Jeffries as we work together to provide so many with a clean slate and renewed hope for the future.”
“My husband was a man of vision. He believed in the power of second chances and thought everyone should have the opportunity to overcome mistakes from their past,” said Lu-Shawn Thompson. “During his time in office, he fought to lighten the penalties for those charged with low level offenses and exonerated over 20 wrongfully accused persons. His legacy lives on and extends beyond the borders of Brooklyn. I know he would be proud to have his name attached to this important piece of legislation that will expunge the record of first-time offenders charged with low level, non-violent offenses. The timing of this legislation coincides with what would have been my husband’s 55th birthday and the 5th anniversary of his passing. And I can think of no better way to celebrate his life and legacy than by standing behind a bill that will provide a second chance to many deserving people. On behalf of my children Kennedy, Kenneth, Jr. and myself, we thank you.”
Throughout his career as a federal prosecutor, in private practice and as Brooklyn’s first African American District Attorney, Kenneth P. Thompson elevated the integrity and fairness of the criminal justice system and was an adamant voice for social and racial justice.
During his tenure as District Attorney, Thompson established a Conviction Review Unit, which moved to vacate or support the dismissal of the convictions of 21 people who were wrongfully convicted of murder and other offenses. He also implemented a groundbreaking policy not to prosecute low-level marijuana possession arrests in order to spare young people from the burden of a criminal record.
The Begin Again Act would expand a Reagan-era statute to make more people eligible for expungement of a first-time simple drug possession offense. Specifically, the legislation eliminates an unnecessary age requirement, allowing judges to give more low-level drug offenders a second chance to pursue a productive, law-abiding life.
The legislation is cosponsored by Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX).