Felons Can ‘Clean’ Old Criminal Record Under Prop. 47

Measure allows some non-violent convictions to be reduced.

By Jacqueline Garcia, EGP Staff Writer

For East Los Angeles resident Joseph Barela, growing up in a family of addicts made it easy for him to end up in their same situation. Barela was in and out of jail since he was a teenager, the last time in 1999 he was sent to prison for eight years.

Now, at age 50, Barela says he has “grown and matured a lot,” but laments that his past felony and multiple misdemeanor convictions continue to make life hard.

He’s hoping a little known provision in Proposition 47 could help turn things around.

Lea este artículo en Español: Delincuentes Pueden ‘Limpiar’ Su Record Criminal Bajo la Prop. 47

“The last time I was in jail it was for a non-violent crime,” Barela told EGP, explaining he was convicted of receiving stolen property and resisting arrest.

Under Prop. 47, approved by voters last November, some low-level, non-violent crimes, like drug possession and petty theft offenses under $950, can be reduced from felonies to misdemeanors.

Prop. 47 allows Californians like Barela to petition to remove the felonies from their criminal record, but only until Nov. 5, 2017. Successfully doing so can open new doors for people trying to turn their lives around, improving their opportunities when seeking employment, financial aid, housing, and the right to vote.

Civil rights activists, however, are worried the word is not getting out to the people who can benefit most from the change in law. During a panel discussion at the Japanese American Museum in Little Tokyo last Friday – hosted by New America – legal experts, former inmates and journalists emphasized the importance of non-violent felons starting the process to clean up their criminal records soon, as the law provides.

Hillary Blout explains who qualifies under Prop. 47 and where to file. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

Hillary Blout explains who qualifies under Prop. 47 and where to file. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

“Because we have no guarantee that there will be an extension, the most important thing is to know that it doesn’t hurt to turn in your application,” if you think you qualify, Hillary Blout, Californians for Safety and Justice’s Prop. 47 implementation director, told EGP. The process varies from county to county, “some counties have a backlog of three months and some can be one month,” she said.

Lowering felonies to a misdemeanor is a life-changing experience, said Rochelle Solombrino, who spent 18 months in prison after being convicted of leading police on a high-speed chase and resisting arrest.

“I don’t believe I was a bad person, I was only doing bad things,” she told the audience.

Solombrino said she felt defeated when she got out of jail, realizing it would be hard to have a normal life with her criminal record.

She applied for Section 8 housing, but said she was denied because of her felony record.

Solombrino learned during a free legal clinic that under Prop. 47, four of her felonies could be reclassified as misdemeanors.

She completed a drug rehabilitation program at the San Pedro-based nonprofit Fred Brown Recovery Services, where she later got a job. She’s now the program’s operations coordinator.

“I was given the opportunity to become better and I started giving back to the community,” she proudly said.

Under Prop. 47, certain charges can be expunged (removed) from a person’s record either through resentencing or reclassification.

“Resentencing” allows an individual serving time in jail, prison, or on parole, probation, post-release community supervisor or mandatory supervision, to apply to be re-sentenced on a misdemeanor charge.

The process may vary by county, but will usually involve a hearing and petitioners most likely need to be represented by an attorney.

Under “Reclassification” or Record Change, individuals no longer in custody or on probation or parole, can apply to have their original conviction changed from a felony to a misdemeanor — if the conviction was in California.

Applicants should work with a lawyer or a legal clinic during the process, experts said.

“Having a misdemeanor is still public, but we can get it expunged,” making it no longer open to public scrutiny, said Paul Jung, staff attorney with the Asian Americans Advancing Justice.

“Once you expunge the misdemeanor, the employer is not required to request the records,” he added.

Approximately one million Californians have non-violent felonies on their criminal record, according to Californians for Safety and Justice. As a result, they face restrictions on where they can work, live or be educated, even though they have served their time, the group said. For 73% of these people, it can amount to a lifetime ban.

In the case of immigrants, about 60% of all deportations are because of a felony conviction, said Blout. People need to know that filing the application is safe, “there’s no retaliation for filing” and the information is not shared with immigration officials, she said.

Filing the Prop. 47 application is free, she added.

Reducing the cost of incarceration — from the $60,000 per inmate, per year to the $8,500 level it costs to educate students in kindergarten through grade 12— the state will have more money to put into drug treatment programs and health services for people in the criminal justice system. It would also free up money to pay for programs for at-risk students in k-12, and victim services, according to Californians for Safety and Justice.

This is good news for Barela, who says five of his felonies can be reduced to misdemeanors. In his words, even though he has not committed a crime in years, potential employers still see him as a criminal and “nobody wants to hire a thief.”

“If Prop. 47 had existed back then, the prisons wouldn’t be so crowded.”

For more information about the process, call (213) 974-2811 or visit www.MyProp47.com/LA.

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Twitter @jackiereporter

jgarcia@egpnews.com

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June 18, 2015  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

Comments

One Response to “Felons Can ‘Clean’ Old Criminal Record Under Prop. 47”

  1. Delincuentes Pueden ‘Limpiar’ Su Record Criminal Bajo la Prop. 47 : Eastern Group Publications/EGPNews on June 18th, 2015 3:35 pm

    […] Read this article in English: Felons Can ‘Clean’ Old Criminal Record Under Prop. 47 […]

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