Success story

Going from Pilot to Statewide Record Clearance in California

Our Clear My Record team worked with district attorneys in California to reduce or dismiss 144,000 convictions

Impact

  • We scaled a five-county automatic record clearance pilot to a statewide automated process that has impacted thousands of people since its implementation. 
  • With the help of Code for America’s technology, district attorneys in California reduced or dismissed 144,000 cannabis convictions, representing two-thirds of all eligible cannabis convictions in the state at the time.
  • With the help of Code for America’s technology, 113,000 people had cannabis convictions reduced, dismissed, or sealed on their records, opening meaningful pathways to life without a criminal record.

The challenge

In 2016, California voters passed an initiative that legalized cannabis and included a path to expungement for people who had cannabis convictions on their records, but there was a catch: the burden was on individuals to petition for their record clearance. Only 10% of eligible people got relief from the petition-based process, which was time-consuming and expensive for those who pursued it.

So in 2018, California passed a new law to remove this burden from individuals and automatically reduce or dismiss all eligible records. With 220,000 convictions eligible for clearance at the time, the state now had to develop a process to identify and clear all of these criminal records. 

Our approach

To meet the moment, Code for America scaled up technology we had been working on with district attorneys across the state and released a no-cost, open-source application that efficiently identified eligible convictions from bulk record data—ultimately in just a matter of seconds. How did we get there?

Our Clear My Record program began in 2016 with an online intake tool that connected people to legal aid for the petition-based record clearance process. We saw how burdensome and inefficient petition-based processes can be, and developed this tool that aimed to increase access to record clearance. While more than 20,000 people accessed the tool, the petition-based process itself was not built to scale to the millions of people eligible for relief across California.  

We wanted to try out a new process, one where record clearance could be an automated service initiated by government, without burden for individuals. So we began a first-of-its-kind automatic record clearance pilot in partnership with five counties who were looking to automatically clear cannabis convictions: San Francisco, Contra Costa, San Joaquin, Sacramento, and Los Angeles.

These partnerships helped to reduce or dismiss approximately 85,000 convictions from 70,000 people’s records—and showed that automatic record clearance could be more efficient for government and more equitably meet the needs of people who have come into contact with the criminal legal system. 

When AB 1793 was passed in 2018, it required every district attorney in California to adopt an automatic approach to cannabis record clearance, like what our five pilot counties had done.

We released the Clear My Record application for use throughout the state, and approximately half of California’s counties used the application to identify an additional 55,000 marjuana convictions to be reduced or dismissed. Taken together with the five-county pilot, this means we helped to reduce or dismiss approximately two-thirds of the total number of eligible convictions across the state.

Outcomes

A criminal record creates lifetime barriers for people trying to move forward—making it harder to access housing, education, and job opportunities. Reducing or dismissing a record can open doors that had previously been closed. Through our bulk data processing technology, 144,000 cannabis convictions, representing two-thirds of all eligible cannabis convictions in the state, were reduced, dismissed, or sealed. That translates into 113,000 people who have new opportunities. 

Just as importantly, the partnership between Code for America and California’s government showed the relief that can be delivered to people at scale when automatic record clearance is used efficiently and equitably.

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