Senator Durazo Introduces Groundbreaking Legislation to Seal Conviction & Arrest Records in California

Thursday, March 04, 2021

LOS ANGELES - On Wednesday, Senator María Elena Durazo (D-Los Angeles) with co-authors Senators Nancy Skinner (D-Alameda) and Steven Bradford (D-Gardena) and Assemblymembers Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens) and Alex Lee (D-San Jose) introduced SB 731, groundbreaking criminal justice reform legislation that would create a comprehensive process to automatically seal conviction and arrest records in the state of California.

The bill would end the systemic crisis of disenfranchisement and underemployment faced by millions of Californians with a conviction record, who are disproportionately people of color, by effectively sealing all past convictions records once a person has fully completed their sentence and successfully gone two years without further contact with the justice system.  Records of arrests that didn’t result in a conviction would also be automatically sealed. In addition, the bill would provide a much-needed major economic boost to California in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, including an estimated $20 billion yearly increase to our state’s gross domestic product that it currently misses out on from widespread unemployment and underemployment of those with a conviction history.

“Our conviction & arrest records system forces the people who go through it - our mothers and fathers, our brothers and sisters - to face obstacles for the rest of their lives, in every aspect of their lives,” said Senator Durazo. “The completion of a prison sentence should pave the way for a complete return to participate fully in society. But for millions of Californians, their conviction history turns into a lifelong sentence of limited access to employment, housing, education, and the ability to live a full, normal life and provide for their families.”

SB 731 is sponsored by some of California’s leading criminal justice reform advocates, including Californians for Safety & Justice, Homeboy Industries (the first bill Homeboy Industries has ever sponsored), the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, UNITE-LA, the Los Angeles Regional Reentry Partnership, and Legal Services for Prisoners with Children/All of Us or None.

Specifically, the bill would implement a comprehensive system to prospectively and retroactively seal conviction and arrest records through a structured approach to sunsetting conviction histories:

  1. The automated sealing of all arrest records to that do not result in conviction; and
  2. Phased relief for convictions records by expanding record sealing to all sentences following completion of terms of incarceration, post-release supervision, and an additional period of time - provided the person has completed their sentence without any new felony convictions and has no new charges pending.

“I am proud to co-author Senator Durazo’s SB 731,” said Senator Bradford. “Arresting someone does not mean they are guilty. It makes no sense to ask the formerly incarcerated to reintegrate into society with meaningful employment while penalizing them with artificial barriers. A criminal record should not be a life sentence and this bill will provide relief for over three million Californians who live with the consequences of that record in every aspect of their lives.”

“The fact that current law causes millions of Californians who pose no threat to public safety to be thwarted in their ability to get jobs, find housing, or access education is just wrong,” said Senator Skinner. “I’m proud to co-author SB 731 to finally lift an obstacle that has blocked so many from fully re-entering society and leading productive lives.”

More than eight million formerly imprisoned Californians who have done their time and paid their debts, or were convicted but never served any time in prison,  are still living with old conviction records that makes it more challenging for them to regain full membership in their communities.Thousands of restrictions placed on people with former convictions in California create barriers to essential resources like safe and stable housing, and employment and educational opportunities. As a result, these individuals struggle to provide for their families and to rebuild productive and full lives, which has only become more challenging as a result of the economic recession caused by COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition to the obstacles to civic participation faced by people living with an old conviction, placing employment restrictions on people with a past conviction impedes the health of our economy for every Californian. According to a new report released today by Californians for Safety & Justice & UNITE-LA, in 2018 alone, nearly $20 billion was lost in state economic activity (GDP) as a result of this exclusionary practice. On top of that, as many as 305,000 workers in 2018 alone were excluded or denied employment opportunities as a result of old felony conviction records. These barriers to employment exist as some sectors in the economy are in need of workers to fill vacant roles. On the whole, removing barriers to employment for people with past convictions will help our economic recovery, improve public safety, and support critical areas of our economy that are in desperate need of workers.

Sunsetting conviction histories also aligns with California voters’ repeated decisions to abandon failed criminal justice system policies that are responsible for the expansion of these old legal records. Voters rejected the excessive use of felony convictions and incarceration in three separate elections through statewide ballot initiatives over the last decade including passing Proposition 47 in 2014 and Proposition 57 in 2016 and, last fall, resoundingly rejecting Proposition 20, an initiative that sought to  undo past reforms.   

A full text of the bill is available on request.