Using Technology to Reverse Drug Convictions
The May 5, 2018, Drug Policy Alliance Newsletter, reported that of the 2.2 million people in jail, 1.25 million were arrested for possessing drugs for personal use in the U.S.
Drug use and selling are similar for all races; however, people of color have a significantly higher chance of being stopped, searched, arrested, convicted and harshly sentenced.
The cruelest impacts of drug arrests are the repercussions of a criminal record. Rescinded voting rights, restricted access to employment, business loans, trade licensing, student financial aid, child custody, and housing assistance will haunt the convicted for the rest of their lives. Families are financially, emotionally, and spiritually devastated.
Finding jobs and housing are the two main factors that drive recidivism and creates a revolving door effect.
Until Proposition 64
You may recall that Proposition 64 legalized the possession and purchase of up to an ounce of marijuana and allows individuals to grow up to six plants for personal use.
When recreational pot use was legalized, a door opened for thousands of inmates. Non-violent individuals who were arrested for possession can now petition the courts to have their convictions expunged, and some crimes can be reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor.
As a result, district attorneys have been swamped with requests to review cases, which require more resources than are available and strains an already overloaded system.
For example, Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey’s office estimated there have been 40,000 felony convictions involving pot-related offenses since 1993.
The Good News
The May 12, 2018 edition of the Los Angeles Times published an article about using technology to make the process easier.
CODE for AMERICA, a non-profit organization, created a program that will search cases to determine eligibility under California’s state law. The software automatically fills out the required forms and generates a completed motion in a PDF format. The district attorney’s office can then file the completed motion with the court.
Reducing or eliminating criminal convictions will allow people access to employment and housing, which also improves the public’s safety.
According to the article in the Los Angeles Times, the CODE for AMERICA program has been used in San Francisco, where 962 motions to dismiss misdemeanor marijuana convictions were prepared, 528 have been submitted to the San Francisco County Superior Court, and 428 have been granted. (Felony convictions take longer because they require an analysis of the individual’s rap sheets to determine eligibility.)
Intrigued, I checked out the website www.CODEforAMERICA.com, and noticed their Integrated Benefits Initiative, which they define as:
Jennifer Pahlka, the Executive Director, said the organization plans to expand the program throughout all California counties, with the goal of clearing 250,000 convictions by 2019.
(If the company has peaked your interest, consider attending the CODE for AMERICA Summit, May 30-June 1, 2018 in Oakland, California.)
What about you? Do you know someone who could benefit from this technology? Are you intrigued by the CODE for AMERICA organization?
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Thanks for reading.
P.S. If you’re interested in reading my novel, Busted, which shows both sides of the drug debate, please click on Amazon.