Closing the Delivery Gap: Making good on the promise of California’s record clearance laws

At Code for America, we believe that justice doesn’t just mean enacting good policy, it means getting the implementation right. We want everyone who is eligible under law for record clearance — like dismissal of an old conviction, sealing, or reclassifying a conviction as a more minor offense — to receive this relief when they become eligible. The ability to quickly access this relief can, and does, transform lives.

At least 70 million people in the U.S. have a criminal record. The vast majority of those were convicted of low-level offenses, or arrested but never convicted or charged to begin with. The consequences of a criminal record are felt long after the initial arrest or conviction, as those individuals then face significant barriers to employment, education, housing, and other opportunities.

In California alone, an estimated five million people are eligible for some form of conviction relief that can reduce those barriers. Recognizing the tremendous difference record clearance could make in the lives of everyday Californians, Code for America built Clear My Record (Classic) to bridge the gap between the promise of our state’s laws and the relief that people actually receive.

By serving over 8,000 people in 14 counties with Clear My Record (Classic), we gained an in-depth understanding of the bottlenecks in the existing process across much of the state. To help inform policy makers and practitioners about what our data shows, we compiled a policy report for the California State Bar about the opportunities to improve California’s record clearance process. The most significant finding of this report is that there is an access to justice gap impacting record clearance in California, despite the fact that people have the right to an appointed public defender. Furthermore, we found that 25–32 counties in the state do not provide legal assistance for people who need help clearing their record — and those that do are often over capacity and under-resourced.

Much more will be required in order to make the leap from thousands of individuals served to millions of eligible records cleared, and that’s where we’re heading with Clear My Record (Automatic).

In May, we launched a pilot to help the government automatically clear all eligible criminal records. We will pilot this technology in 3 to 5 counties in California, partnering with district attorneys and starting with the record clearance or reduction remedies available under Proposition 64 (marijuana legalization). Our goal is to help clear 250,000 eligible convictions by 2019.

Our vision is to create a blueprint for automatic record clearance of all eligible criminal records in California and across the country. We are working with government to fundamentally rethink the process of record clearance, leveraging technology and user-centered design to reinvest in communities by removing barriers to employment, housing, health, and education.

We are proud of our work on this report, and especially the work of our attorney partners. Our findings drove us to our shift in focus to an automatic model that will support a full systems change. Read the full report here.


Learn more about our work on Clear My Record and donate to support justice at scale: codeforamerica.org/justiceatscale.