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Campaign to Clear Criminal Records in Central Coast Launches in Ventura

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September 7, 2022
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 7, 2022
Contact: Mia Murrietta
Director of Communications
(510) 267-0761 ext. 1011
mmurrietta@crla.org

Campaign to Clear Criminal Records in Central Coast Launches in Ventura

CRLA and pro bono partners help residents remove major barrier to better housing and jobs

OXNARD, Calif. — On July 14, 2022, California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA) hosted a free Clean Slate Clinic at the E.P. Foster Library in Ventura. During and following the Clinic, volunteer attorneys from Bank of America, McGuireWoods LLP, Oxnard-based Jubilee Legal and Santa Barbara-based People’s Justice Project analyzed individual criminal records and prepared criminal record expungement and arrest-record sealing petitions for 73 Ventura County residents with more than 400 cases. Assisting with this community effort included indispensable support from the Ventura County Public Defender’s Office. Following the clinic, CRLA has filed over 100 petitions with the Ventura County Superior Court and continues to file petitions today.

“The purpose of the Clean Slate Clinic is to help eliminate a barrier to employment and housing for individuals who have criminal records. A criminal record—no matter how old or how minor—can be an unjust barrier to reentry for people when most employers, landlords, and universities use background checks as the first step to screen and eliminate applicants,” said CRLA Deputy Director Jessica Jewell.

The California Policy Lab estimates nearly one in every eight Californians with a criminal record is potentially eligible to obtain a full criminal record expungement, and more than six of every eight are potentially eligible to have at least one prior arrest or conviction expunged.  In Ventura County alone, over 160,000 convictions are potentially eligible for expungement, according to Judicial Council of California estimates.

Since 2019, CRLA’s Ventura County field office in Oxnard has provided reentry services that help Ventura County residents understand their eligibility and navigate the expungement process. Pro bono attorney and volunteer response has been enthusiastic, and during this period, CRLA has hosted six clinics (three in-person and three virtual), served nearly 200 clients, and filed approximately 850 petitions for dismissal.  

“CRLA’s reentry services allow individuals to obtain equal access to legal representation and justice,” said Evelyn Curiel, staff attorney at CRLA’s Oxnard office. “Often our clients state they had lost hope in ever seeking expungement as they did not believe they were eligible, nor did they believe it was achievable,” she said. “Our clients feel heard and seen through the expungement process, a feeling that many had never felt before. An expungement grants our clients the ability to continue with their lives and positively contribute to their communities.”

Even a misdemeanor conviction or probation violation disqualifies a person from a wide range of benefits and opportunities. Under federal law, any probation violation for any type of misdemeanor disqualifies an individual from welfare benefits, including Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), food stamps, low-income housing, and Supplemental Security Income for the elderly and disabled. The consequences of a drug misdemeanor conviction are particularly harsh and can include the loss of healthcare coverage, welfare, and student financial aid.

“By granting these expungement petitions, the Court will help many of our community members obtain employment and housing by making them better candidates for housing and employment opportunities,” said Joseph Doherty, Managing Attorney at CRLA’s Central Coast Homeless Prevention Collaborative. “Following America’s failed War on Drugs and decades of overcriminalization, an estimated 70 million Americans now have some type of criminal record with 85% of convictions being for low-level misdemeanor offenses. But even very low-level conduct can trigger widespread employment disqualifications that can devastate a person’s chances of achieving economic stability and full participation in society,” he said. “By launching our mass record-clearing campaign along the Central Coast, we are working to ensure that conviction and arrest records are no longer a life sentence to poverty, and past mistakes will no longer define our futures.”

Criminal record expungement confers numerous benefits for individuals convicted of certain misdemeanors and felonies. When applying for a job, individuals who successfully expunge their criminal record can lawfully answer “No” if asked whether they have been convicted of a crime. Moreover, an employer is not permitted to consider an expunged conviction that is discovered through a background check in making a hiring decision.

An expungement also benefits those seeking state professional licenses. To be sure, even after an expungement in many circumstances, an individual must disclose a conviction in response to a question posed in an application for a state license (e.g., a contractor license or real estate license) or in an application for public office. However, many licensing agencies are more likely to look favorably upon individuals who have successfully completed probation and whose convictions have been expunged.  Further, under California law, “a person shall not be denied a license on the basis of any conviction, or on the basis of any acts underlying the conviction” if the conviction has been dismissed.  

“Another benefit of this work that we have seen is that our clients who get their expungement petitions granted are not returning to the criminal justice system,” said Renee Lizarraga, Staff Attorney at Santa Barbara based People’s Justice Project. “The added stability that comes from obtaining employment and housing can go a long way to reducing rates of recidivism, as well as improving the quality of the client’s life overall.”

“As a volunteer, the experience of working at the clinic was a wonderful opportunity to see the process of justice working for the people who need it the most,” said Marin Stuve, intern with CRLA’s Oxnard office. “I remember the last client we saw was a mother with a young child. The whole group stayed late to finish her case, and she couldn’t stop thanking everyone. The smile on her face when she completed the process was beautiful and she was so full of hope for the future.”

“Criminal records are often counter-productive—they prevent people from living the exact sort of productive, engaged lives that we want everyone to live,” said Sparky Abraham, Staff Attorney at Oxnard-based Jubilee Legal. “We are all capable of mistakes, even terrible mistakes, and we are all capable of redemption,” he said. “Jubilee Legal is honored to work with CRLA to help our neighbors live full and fulfilling lives.”

“By partnering with CRLA to assist individuals eligible for criminal record expungement, Bank of America demonstrates its commitment to economic opportunity across Ventura County’s diverse communities,” said David Brooks, Bank of America associate general counsel and co-chair of the bank’s Southern California Pro Bono Committee.

“The vital expungement services we provided in our July 14 clinic not only facilitated reentry for individuals with a criminal arrest or conviction but also improved access to equal justice for all,” said Charlotte Pashley, McGuireWoods LLP Los Angeles Office Pro Bono Leader. “We value our partnership with CRLA and Bank of America and are proud to participate in this important pro bono initiative.”

“The support we provided CRLA and its pro bono partners during the July 14 clinic was instrumental in realizing our goal of providing justice to our community’s most vulnerable members,” said Ventura County Public Defender Claudia Y. Bautista.

“This collaboration is a great example of the private Bar, the Public Defender Office, community-based organizations and CRLA working together to provide high quality legal services to low-income Ventura County residents in need,” said CRLA’s Pro Bono Coordinator Jeff Ponting. “There is more to come!"

The July 14 Clean Slate Clinic in Ventura kicked off a five-county record-clearing campaign, including Santa Cruz, Monterey, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Ventura counties. If you are interested in clearing your criminal record or being a volunteer at one of our clinics, please contact CRLA at (805) 902-CRLA or email reentry@crla.org.

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