Preventing people living with a past conviction from positively contributing to our communities undermines economy, make us all less safe

Sacramento, Calif. – A groundbreaking bill authorizing the California Department of Justice to electronically seal conviction and arrest records for Californians who remain free from contact with the justice system for four years after fully completing their sentence passed in the state Assembly late Wednesday. The bill will now return to the Senate for concurrence before heading to the governor’s desk for signature.

Senate Bill 731, authored by Sen. Maria Elena Durazo (D-Los Angeles) will create a comprehensive process to electronically seal conviction and arrest records in the state of California once a person has fully completed their sentence and successfully gone four years without further contact with the justice system. Records of arrests that didn’t result in a conviction would also be electronically sealed. 

“If SB 731 is signed into law, California will have the most comprehensive expungement system in the nation,” said Jay Jordan, chief operating officer of the Alliance for Safety and Justice, the national sponsor organization of Californians for Safety and Justice, which has been at the forefront of some of the state’s most significant justice reforms during the past decade. “Millions of Californians will now be able to contribute to this state and its economy, freed from the thousands of counterproductive yet permanent restrictions to opportunity that serve only to destabilize families and undermine our collective safety.”

Nationally, 70 million Americans are living with an old criminal conviction or record that can permanently block them from getting jobs, housing, educational opportunities, and other keys to attaining economic security and family stability. This is true despite the fact that many people with convictions were never incarcerated and have been crime free for years or even decades. Yet they still face nearly 50,000 different legal restrictions that can restrict economic mobility and permanently push people to the margins of society.

In Californian alone, eight million people– one in five state residents – are living with a past conviction or record. As a result, they face nearly 5,000 legal restrictions, many of which are employment related and 73 percent of which are permanent.

Eight in 10 people with a past conviction say they have experienced  hurdles to success, including barriers to job opportunities, housing, education, adopting or fostering a child, volunteering at their child’s school or joining its PTA, as well as accessing crime victim services.

The bill would also provide a much-needed and major economic boost to California in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, curbing the estimated $20 billion in yearly gross domestic product that the state currently loses due to the widespread unemployment and underemployment of people living with a past conviction.

In conjunction with the bill’s introduction last year, Californians for Safety and Justice and UNITE-LA released a report, “Getting Back to Work: Revamping the Economy by Removing Past Records,” providing a clear picture of the scale of economic harm caused by these barriers faced by people living with an old conviction.

The report shows that in 2018:

  • 2.5 million working-age Californians were living with a felony record
  • The state lost $20 billion (in 2021 dollars) in gross domestic product – the total value of goods produced and services provided – due to the barriers preventing people living with a past felony legal record from gaining full employment and contributing to the economy 
  • The Los Angeles region alone lost more than $9 billion from their GDP, and eight Bay Area counties lost over $4 billion from their economic output.
  • Five counties in the central valley region lost nearly $1.5 billion in GDP
  • Sacramento and three neighboring counties lost nearly $800 million from their GDP

“This bill will end the systematic disenfranchisement and employment barriers faced by millions of Californians living with an old conviction record that disproportionately affects people of color and costs the state approximately $20 billion every year in economic activity,” said Tinisch Hollins, executive director of Californians for Safety and Justice. “Rather than keeping us safe, the thousands of permanent post-conviction restrictions faced by Californians living with an old conviction record make it harder for them to rebuild productive and full lives.”

The bill is sponsored by Californians for Safety and Justice, Homeboy industries – the first time in the storied organization’s history it is sponsoring legislation – Anti-Recidivism Coalition, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, Time for Change Foundation, Pillars of the Community and the Los Angeles Regional Re-entry Project. Earlier this year, more than 70 supporters sent a letter to state legislators calling for the bill’s passage.