California clears largest cache of criminal records in U.S. history

More than 11 million arrest and conviction records automatically cleared including old arrests that never turned into charges and provides relief to people who completed all conditions of their sentence

Due to legislation pioneered by Los Angeles DA George Gascón

By Max Szabo, Prosecutors Alliance of California

SACRAMENTONew data from the California Department of Justice (CAL DOJ) indicates that 11,164,458 records of arrest and conviction were automatically cleared between July 1, 2022 and December 31, 2022 pursuant to Assembly Bill 1076. The historic reform automated a process that individuals were already entitled to but had to seek out through an arduous process. AB 1076 requires CAL DOJ to automatically clear old arrests that never turned into charges and provides relief to people who completed all the conditions of their sentence, thereby expanding education, employment and housing opportunities for countless Californians.

“People who were arrested or convicted of low-level crimes and did what was asked of them are entitled to a second chance under the law, but bureaucratic barriers kept them in a paper prison,” said Cristine DeBerry, Founder and Executive Director of the Prosecutors Alliance of California.  “That wasn’t just unfair, it was unsafe, as a criminal record hangs over people, hampering their access to employment and housing opportunities, primary factors that drive recidivism. The system had taken away hope and opportunity, but commonsense and technology enabled one of the most important reforms in years.” 

The automated record clearance is due to a 2019 law, Assembly Bill 1076, which was authored by Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) and sponsored by then-San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón.  The legislation mandated that the state Department of Justice automatically clear records of arrests that did not result in a conviction after the statute of limitations had passed as well as convictions involving probation and jail once an offender’s sentence was completed. Individuals sentenced to prison and anyone who had to register as a sex offender or who violated their probation is not eligible.  The record clearance largely benefits individuals who had committed drugs or property crimes.

“It’s a vicious cycle, as communities of color are more likely to be arrested, they are therefore more likely to have a record that includes an arrest or conviction, and yet they were less likely to be aware that they were entitled to relief,” said LA County District Attorney George Gascón.  “These were unnecessary barriers that make it more difficult to successfully reenter and break the cycle by limiting access to jobs, education and housing.  Breaking down these barriers makes our system more just and our communities more safe.”

During the appropriations process that bill was limited to prospective arrests and convictions.  However, a subsequent effort in 2021, AB 1038, authored again by Assemblymember Ting, and sponsored by the Prosecutors Alliance of California, made the record clearance provided under AB 1076 retroactive.  That bill took effect July 1, 2023.  The newly released DOJ data indicates that the relief granted thus far was pursuant to AB 1076, the initial authorizing legislation only, suggesting that the expanded eligibility profile now in effect under AB 1038 will result in the clearance of millions of additional records.  

Prior to the automated record clearance, 8 million California residents had criminal convictions on their records that hampered their ability to find work and housing, secure public benefits, or even get admitted to college.  Studies indicate approximately two million of them were eligible for record clearance. Millions more have old arrests on their record that never resulted in a conviction but, remain as obstacles to employment.  

Under the law arrests that didn’t result in a conviction may be cleared. Convictions that carry probation or jail time are also eligible for record clearance after the individual completes all the terms and conditions of their sentence. Prior to AB 1076, however, this required individuals to be aware of their eligibility and to retain an attorney to proactively file the necessary petition.  As a result, millions of Californians have been entitled to relief for years that they never realized because they had to jump through hoops to get it. In fact, nationally, only 6.5% of eligible people have been estimated to obtain record clearance within five years of eligibility. With more affluent communities more able to afford a private attorney, this bureaucracy disproportionately impacted socioeconomically disadvantaged communities and communities of color in particular.

Nearly 90% of employers, 80% of landlords, and 60% of colleges screen applicants’ criminal records.  According to a 2012 study conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management, many prospective employees and housing applicants are rejected solely based on having an arrest record on file.  Studies also show people with unsealed arrest records have a substantially increased chance of living in poverty, earning lower wages, with fewer educational opportunities.

The concept for the legislation grew out of DA Gascón’s effort to clear old cannabis convictions that were eligible for clearance pursuant to Proposition 64.  That effort has now been adopted by prosecutors’ offices across the nation.  Notably, the algorithm that enabled automated record clearance pursuant to AB 1076–much like the cannabis clearance effort–would not be possible without the help and support of Code For America. Research by the California Policy Lab of the University of California provided supporting evidence regarding the feasibility of large-scale record clearance automation, as well as its enormous potential impact on the lives of Californians.  Assemblymember Phil Ting has the sincere gratitude of the Prosecutors Alliance for leading the historic initiative and seeing that all eligible and impacted Californians would obtain the relief to which they are entitled.  

The Prosecutors Alliance of California is fiscally sponsored by Tides Advocacy, a social welfare organization. Contra Costa District Attorney Diana Becton is a founding member. For more information about the Prosecutors Alliance go to and keep up with our work on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. 

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