STOCKTON, Calif. – A group of California residents on Tuesday became the first in state history to file petitions to have their criminal records permanently sealed under a groundbreaking new law that went into effect Jan. 1. Full clip of the press conference found here (skip 18 min.).

Under the law, California is the first state in American history to give more than a million of its citizens living with an old conviction record the chance to be unburdened – in many cases for the first time in decades – by their old convictions in the pursuit of employment, housing and other keys to personal and familial stability as well as our collective public safety.

“Today is truly historic as the first Californians seek to permanently seal their old conviction records and get our from underneath the thousands of restrictions faced by millions of Californians and which undermine our collective safety and economic stability,” said Jay Jordan, chief executive officer of the Alliance for Safety and Justice and National Director of Time Done, the largest national network of people living with old conviction records. “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.”

SB 731, authored by Sen. Maria Elena Durazo (D-Los Angeles), passed last summer by the California legislature and signed into law about a month later by Gov. Gavin Newsom, creates a comprehensive process to electronically seal conviction and arrest records in 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 will also be electronically sealed.

Records relating to registrable sex offenses cannot be sealed. And conviction histories still must be shared with law enforcement, the Commission on Teacher Credentialing, school districts and other educational institutions, as well as others in high sensitivity contexts.

“I am eager to see the transformational power of SB 731 in action for our state’s economy and communities,” said Senator María Elena Durazo (D-Los Angeles). “For far too long, millions of Californians have been blocked from securing stable employment, safe housing, and other life essentials. With many 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.”

SB 731 built upon 2019’s AB 1076, authored by Asm. Phil Ting, (D-San Francisco), which allowed for the automatic sealing of old misdemeanor convictions, and felony convictions that didn’t result in prison incarceration. The new law extends automatic sealing to non-violent, non-serious, non-sexual felony convictions that did result in a sentence of incarceration and allows people convicted of more serious felonies to petition a judge to have their old conviction sealed.

Californians for Safety and Justice, the state’s leading public safety advocacy organization, estimates at least 225,000 Californians will have an old conviction automatically sealed as a result of the new law, and more than a million Californians are now eligible to petition a judge.

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 California 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 state-specific 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.

“For those of us that have experienced the many collateral consequences that come with having an old record, the opportunity to remove barriers to stable housing, economic mobility, family support and more brings hope for a safer California,” said Gilbert Johnson, statewide TimeDone manager for Californians for Safety and Justice. “That’s what SB 731 is about: safety, redemption and restoring dignity.”