Campaigning across the pond

How California built a fairer criminal records system

Home to 20% of the world’s prison population, America is often thought of as the most punitive country in the world. But what about criminal records?

Americans with criminal records face many of the same barriers as those in the UK, such as difficulties accessing employment, housing, and insurance. But in recent months and years, changes have been made in several US states to allow better opportunities for people to shield their records from employers and landlords – a process called expungement.

We sat down with Jay Jordan, CEO of the Alliance for Safety and Justice in the US, and Chris Stacey, Director of Support and Development at Clinks, to record a podcast discussing the reality of living with a criminal record and recent changes to the criminal records system on both sides of the pond. 

Jay filled us in about recent work in California which will allow many more people to leave their record behind for good. 

Senate bill 731, approved by the Governor of California in September 2022, will automatically shield records for minor offences from employers after a few years.

People with more serious offences on their record will need to petition the court for expungement. They can apply once they’ve completed their sentence and gone several years without any further contact with the criminal justice system.

Everyone in California with a criminal record – with only a few exceptions – now has hope that they will be able to move forward after leaving the criminal justice system behind them. But in the UK, some people can face barriers to employment decades after committing an offence, even if that offence happened when they were a child.

The UK has some catching up to do. In the next few months, FairChecks will be seeking meetings with representatives from government to discuss how we can work towards a fairer and more proportionate system.

In the meantime, if you would like to hear more about campaigning efforts to improve the criminal records system in the US and the UK, listen to full podcast episode below.

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