Bill to Help Scrub Records of Low-Level Offenders Hits Newsom’s Desk

(CN) – Californians who qualify could see their criminal records expunged starting in 2021 under a bill sent to Governor Gavin Newsom on Tuesday.

Under Assembly bill 1076, the California Department of Justice must create a database of all people eligible for record expungement, doing away with what advocates call the costly and burdensome requirement to petition a court to seal and dismiss a conviction.

Advocates say the laborious process – and the fees that come with it – often discourages people from bothering.

The Department of Justice will have to seek out the records of those who have served their time and automatically begin expungement.

There are some restrictions, though. The person cannot be a registered sex offender or have any other pending criminal charges. Amendments to the bill make automatic expungement available to people arrested after Jan. 1, 2021, though the original bill included earlier cases.

Jay Jordan, executive director of Californians for Safety and Justice, said this past March that it was very difficult for him to reintegrate back into society while living under the cloud of his conviction for vehicle theft in 2005. He said about 50% of the restrictions he faced were related to employment.

According to Californians for Safety and Justice, 80% of landlords and 60% of colleges check applicants’ criminal records.

“California has taken major strides towards rehabilitation, yet millions of residents who have completed their sentence, paid their debt, and remained crime free for years still have old, stale convictions on their record that lead to thousands of legal restrictions. It makes no sense to say someone is rehabilitated and then block them from housing, education, and employment,” Jordan said in a statement Tuesday. “Today, we are one step closer to ensuring that rehabilitation is real, communities are safe, and families are thriving.”

Assembly member Phil Ting, a Democrat from San Francisco who wrote the bill, said in a statement that automated record clearance will help reduce recidivism by giving convicts a fresh start.

“A clean slate opens the doors to employment, housing and educational opportunities that help can individuals succeed and reduce the chance of recidivism,” he said. “We must automate the records clearance process so former offenders can get back on their feet and lead productive lives.”

The San Francisco District Attorney’s Office said that the automated system will cost taxpayers 4 cents per record, while each record processed under the old paper system cost $3,757.

But opponents of the bill say if enacted, the law will only cause more work for records personnel.

“AB 1076 will unnecessarily put the burden on records management personnel, who are short-staffed and without sufficient resources, to move arrest dispositions to an automated system, a very labor-intensive and cost-prohibitive task. This proposed policy further creates a liability for law enforcement agencies that may inadvertently miss a defendant’s record eligible for dismissal,” said the California Law Enforcement Association of Records Supervisors in comments accompanying the bill’s Assembly floor analysis. CLEARS is a lobbying and trade association for government records clerks.

San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón said in a statement that removing obstacles to obtaining housing, jobs and education promotes public safety.

“We advance public safety by removing barriers to employment, housing and educational opportunities. That is why this landmark bill is so important and why we are working hard to be the first state in the country to enact it into law,” he said.

The Department of Justice calculated that the bill will cost more than $13 million from fiscal years 2019-2024 to implement, and the Judicial Council estimated it would cost the courts between $460,000 and $880,000 annually.

Newsom has until Oct. 13 to sign the bill.

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