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A bill to create a new way to seal felony convictions and arrest records of formerly incarcerated Californians was passed by the Senate on Wednesday.
Senate Bill 731, jointly authored by Senators Maria Elena Durazo (D-Los Angeles) and Steven Bradford (D-Los Angeles), would make felony conviction and arrest records sealable for any defendant, but only after certain circumstances. Under the bill, defendants would have to fully complete their sentence of incarceration, probation, mandatory supervision, post-release supervision, and/or parole, as well as go four years out of prison having not being convicted of a new offense. In some cases, records may also be sealed following after only one or two years of no new convictions. SB 731 sealing relief would also specifically apply to defendant convicted in all years after 2004.
Senators Durazo and Bradford wrote the bill due to older criminal convictions and arrest records being a significant barrier for many types of employment in the state. Both Senators also cited a 2018 Californians for Safety and Justice and UNITE-LA report that found that 2.5 million workers in California were being hindered by the felony record barrier every year, estimating that California lost $20 billion in gross domestic product output each year due to the felony record barrier against full employment.
“Our conviction and 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.”
Potential issues with SB 731
While the bill passed with 30 votes in favor and the support of many prisoner rehabilitation programs, including the first bill sponsorship by non-profit Homeboy Industries, there remained substantial opposition against the bill on Wednesday. Detractors note that some felony convictions may be unforgiveable and noted that many do return to crime after release. While an April amendment to the bill rectified many concerns by changing the initial felony coverage date from 1973 to 2005 and adding the four year delay in sealing records after release to make sure that defendants didn’t become repeat offenders with sealed records, many remain concerned that employers will find out about convictions through different means.
“They say this is huge barrier, but honestly, all an employer has to do is put their name into Google and chances are it will give them articles on any arrest, conviction, prison sentence, you name it,” noted Tiffany Lewis, a San Francisco-based resume and cover letter advisor specializing in tech employees. “If they are lucky maybe they’ll have a common enough name where a search will find a lot of people with that name so it can cloud results a bit more, but honestly, chances are a simple record sealing won’t hide the fact that they did time for a felony.”
“The bill did get it right that a lot of employers are skittish around hiring felons. Could you imagine a white collar job hiring someone who was charged with felony embezzlement but had their records sealed so the employer couldn’t see? Or someone with a felony child endangerment charge trying to be a bus driver?”
“Sealing is just another way of saying they’re hiding it, but honestly, any employer worth their salt will find it even if it is sealed. I am contracted to many tech companies, and believe me, they go all the way in background checks and find out all sorts of things just through Google alone. Sealing really won’t do anything.”
SB 731 is expected to be heard in Assembly Committees later this month.