By Citlalli Florez and Sunny Zhou
STOCKTON, CA – California residents here last week became the first in history to file petitions to have their criminal records permanently sealed under a new law that went into effect Jan.1 of this year, according to Californians for Safety and Justice.
The group said California is now the first state to offer as many as a million people relief from the burden of their old criminal convictions that make it more difficult to find employment, housing, and other necessities for personal and familial stability.
Jay Jordan, the chief executive officer of the Alliance for Safety and Justice and the National Director of Time Done, said, “Today is truly historic as the first Californians seek to permanently seal their old conviction records and get out from underneath the thousands of restrictions faced by millions of Californians and which undermine our collective safety and economic stability.”
He continued, “California now has the most comprehensive record sealing system in the nation and we should all be proud of the ways the state continues to pioneer more effective strategies for keeping our communities safe.”
Senate Bill 731 was authored by State Senator Maria Elena Durazo (D-Los Angeles), and creates a “comprehensive process to electronically seal conviction and arrest records in California.” However, the seal activates once a person has fully completed their sentence and has gone four years without contact with the justice system.
Despite the sealing of criminal convictions, records relating to registrable sex offenses cannot be sealed by the system, the bill notes, adding conviction histories will also still be shared with certain institutions, including law enforcement, the Commission on Teacher Credentialing, and educational institutions.
Senator Durazo said, “I am eager to see the transformational power of SB 731 in action for our state’s economy and communities.”
The senator added, “For far too long, millions of Californians have been blocked from securing stable employment, safe housing, and other life essentials. With any of these barriers removed, our state will see a major and much needed economic boost, and families and communities will have new opportunities to thrive.”
Californians for Safety and Justice estimate that SB 731 will automatically seal the old convictions of at least 225,000 Californians in addition to qualifying more than a million Californians to petition a judge.
Although many individuals with past convictions were never incarcerated or otherwise had contact with the legal system for years after the fact, they are affected by various legal restrictions on employment, housing, and other forms of support, the group said, adding this affects as many as 70 million people nationally and eight million people in California alone, who face nearly 5,000 state-specific limitations.
With SB 731 taking effect, supporters said the state can help restore people’s dignity while also making California safer by addressing key issues of housing stability, economic mobility, and family support for those with old records.