Under a bill pending in California’s legislature, the criminal records of millions of people with misdemeanor or lower-level felony records would automatically be sealed from public view once they completed prison or jail sentence, the New York Times reports. The legislation would not apply to people convicted of committing the most serious crimes, like murder or rape. “There are so many of us who just want to be better, but are constantly turned down, turned away,” said Jay Jordan of Time Done, part of Californians for Safety and Justice, a nonprofit that advocates to make the criminal justice system less punitive.
A record showing a criminal conviction or even an arrest that does not lead to a conviction can make it impossible for someone to find jobs or apartments or to obtain licenses like those required in many states for barbers or real estate agents. One in three Americans has a criminal record, and a National Institute of Justice study found that having a criminal record reduced the chance of getting a job offer or a callback by 50 percent. The California bill would make the state, where an estimated eight million people have criminal records, the first that automatically scrubs rap sheets of people whose records qualify. The law would apply retroactively, meaning that people arrested or convicted of crimes dating back decades would have their records automatically sealed. The records would still be accessible to law enforcement agencies, but not to the public, including potential landlords and employers. So far, the California proposal has raised few objections, largely because it does not expand the range of crimes that can be sealed. A new Pennsylvania law automatically clears records of people with misdemeanor offenses if, after 10 years, they have not been convicted of any other crime.