Millions of Old Conviction and Arrest Records Have Been Expunged Under Unprecedented State Law, DOJ Says
SACRAMENTO, Calif. - More than 11 million arrest and conviction records were automatically and permanently expunged during the first six months of implementation of a groundbreaking 2019 state law, according to new data released this week by the California Department of Justice.
AB 1076, authored by Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) and sponsored by Californians for Safety and Justice, the state’s leading public safety advocacy organization, requires the state DOJ to automatically clear eligible records for people who were arrested but never convicted of a crime as well as people living with most any conviction that did not result in a prison sentence and who have successfully completed their sentence.
The data released this week reflects the first accounting by the state DOJ of the impact of AB 1076, and represents what is by far the largest mass expungement of old conviction and arrest records that has ever occurred in American history in such a short period of time.
“This law is rooted in the principles and approaches that lead to true safety for all of our communities,” said Jay Jordan, CEO of the Alliance for Safety and Justice. “But it’s also a bill that is cutting through bureaucratic red tape and streamlining government so it is more responsive to the needs of the people it serves. No one should be permanently barred from pursuing good jobs or housing because of an old conviction for which they’ve fully completed their sentence. Instead, for the first time, families across our great state will be freed to pursue the stability and economic security we all deserve.”
According to the state DOJ, between July 1, 2022 and Dec. 31, 2022, more than 8.4 million records of arrests that never resulted in a conviction were expunged, and more than 2.6 million old conviction records were expunged.
A 2019 Alliance for Safety and Justice report found automatically expunging an old conviction after a person has completed their sentence is key to ensuring people are able to regain family stability and economic security, which in turn is an integral part of a comprehensive public safety strategy.
In California alone, eight million people are living with a past conviction or record that can lead them to face thousands of legal restrictions to jobs, housing, and other opportunities that are key to family stability and economic security. There are over 70 million Americans across the country living with an old conviction or arrest record. Nationally, Americans lose $372 billion in wages every year because of employment losses among people with a past conviction.
The Alliance for Safety and Justice estimates that as many as 29 million old arrest and conviction records in California were eligible for automatic expungement at the time the law went into effect in 2020, with new convictions becoming eligible each year.
The state DOJ has spent the past two years developing the software to run the scanning program identifying old records eligible for expungement, and the protocols for transmitting the record change notices to courts. Expungements began occurring on July 1, 2022 and will continue on an ongoing basis.
“California laws that prevent people living with a past conviction or arrest record from positively contributing to our communities make us all less safe,” said Asm. Ting. “After someone has completed their sentence and paid their debts, we cannot continue to allow old legal records to create barriers to opportunity that destabilize families, undermine our economy, and worsen racial injustices. I’m proud to have authored AB 1076, which prioritizes our collective health and safety by enabling every Californian to contribute to our state and our economy.”
AB 1076 was the precursor to SB 731, authored by Sen. María Elena Durazo (D-Los Angeles) and signed into law last year by Gov. Gavin Newsom, which granted at least one million Californians living with an old conviction that resulted in a state prison sentence the opportunity to petition a judge for expungement.