Bills to Boost Justice Data Collection and Automate Expungements Sail Through the Assembly
By Taylor Walker, Witness LA
On Wednesday, the California Assembly passed two bills that seek to bring equity to California’s criminal justice system.
Data shows that there are around two million people in California who are eligible to have old arrests and certain crimes removed from their records. The complicated petition process keeps most from clearing their criminal histories, however. Others fail to wipe their records simply because they are not aware that they are eligible, or that such relief even exists.
These enduring stains on criminal records can keep people from being able to access housing, employment, and education. People with past felony convictions must contend with thousands of legal restrictions that make successful reentry all the more difficult. Even old arrests that did not lead to prison time can block a person’s path to employment.
AB 1076, by Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco)–in partnership with SF District Attorney George Gascón–would automatically complete expungement and resentencing processes for people convicted of eligible low-level offenses (not violent or sexual crimes), as well as people whose arrests never resulted in convictions, as long as the statute of limitations has passed.
“Eight million California residents have criminal convictions on their records that hamper their ability to find work and housing, secure public benefits, or even get admitted to college,” according to Californians for Safety and Justice, the bill’s sponsor. “Millions more have old arrests on their record that never resulted in a conviction but remain as obstacles to employment. Nearly 90% of employers, 80% of landlords, and 60% of colleges screen applicants’ criminal records.”
Moreover, the bill would save taxpayers some serious cash. Currently, processing each petition for a record change costs the state $3,757. Automating the system would take that number down to four cents per record.
The bill would require the California Department of Justice to actively search its criminal justice databases weekly for individuals eligible for automatic relief.
The state DOJ would also be tasked with including information on who had and hadn’t been granted record changes under AB 1076.
The California Law Enforcement Association of Records Supervisors, says that the burden of clearing records should fall on the individual, not the state. “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,” says CLEARS. “This proposed policy further creates a liability for law enforcement agencies that may inadvertently miss a defendant’s record eligible for dismissal.”