By: Jesse Medina, JS Student
In today’s society many individuals are marked with the stigma of having a past criminal conviction. Politicians who champion the get tough on crime posture deem these individuals to be dangerous criminals. In reality the majority of people with criminal convictions are low-level offenders and not rapists and murderers. It seems that our legislature has been addicted to the incarceration solution for many decades now and this has led to the casting of a wide net that incarcerates mostly non-violent offenders. The war on drugs and the mandatory sentencing laws have deeply destroyed families in poor communities. We can see that our laws have been favoring the crime control model for some time now and this has barred many individuals with non-violent convictions from fully participating in society.
The San Jose State University Record Clearance Project (RCP) is one of the few community programs that help individuals expunge (dismiss) their criminal convictions from their record. It is also the only undergraduate program involved in this endeavor. The program is dedicated to helping individuals who have turned their life around, clean up their criminal record. It has a high success rate in getting clients’ records expunged because the clients and the student advocates are deeply committed to the program.
The program gives community presentations in which we inform the community about the project and the expungement process. After individuals hear from our program they set up an appointment to drop by at our speed screenings. Here, we conduct interviews and go over rap sheets in order to inform the potential client of his/her eligibility for expungement. Once we take a client on, we conduct several interviews in which we gather information to draft the necessary legal petitions that must be submitted to the court. If we do an effective job of conveying the client’s trajectory towards a crime free life, then the judge is left to consider the motion and at his/her discretion decide to grant or not to grant the expungement.
There is more to the program of course, and this is just a brief summary of the project’s overall purpose.
We can no longer maintain an overcrowded and over expanded criminal justice system. This is why it is important to lower the recidivism rate and reintegrate people back into society. Also, being that most non-violent offenders in over crowded prisons are poor, it is hard for them to hire lawyers to help them expunge their criminal record. Most of these non-violent offenders are barred from education, work, public assistance, and even the right to vote in some cases. This is why the RCP is so important today. We need to reintegrate individuals back in society by eliminating the legal disabilities that stem from a criminal conviction and the social stigma that is attached to it. The RCP helps do all this and it is free.