With tens of thousands of marijuana-related convictions in California potentially eligible to be overturned following the legalization of recreational pot, Long Beach is launching a program offering residents free legal help clearing low-level criminal convictions.
Dubbed the Restoration Initiative for Safety and Employment — or RISE — the program isn’t just for cannabis-related offenses, but will help those eligible expunge a variety of low-level misdemeanors and some felonies, clear minor warrants, enroll in court diversion programs, and even convert unpaid court fines to community service hours, officials said Thursday.
The idea is to reach people who assume convictions they’ve done time or completed probation for have doomed them from employment opportunities, city leaders said at a press conference with Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey.
“Those issues do provide barriers to get into the workplace and we have so many people in our community both young and of all ages that just want another chance to go to work and to be a part of our economy,” Mayor Robert Garcia said.
Funded by $200,000 allocated in this year’s city budget, the RISE program will feature four “Fresh Start” workshops next year, in addition to year-round help via the City Prosecutor’s Office.
City Prosecutor Doug Haubert said Long Beach has offered residents similar help in the past, but now, the District Attorney’s Office is on board.
“When the defense and the prosecution agree to clearing someone’s record, it’s much quicker, much easier and much simpler,” he said.
Haubert didn’t have a figure for how many Long Beach residents are eligible to have their convictions reduced or expunged, but he said he expects at least 1,000 people will be served in the first year of the program.
Long Beach will expedite the clearing of marijuana-related convictions as early as July 2019, he said.
Robin Perry, of the Long Beach Bar Association, said his organization and the L.A. County Public Defender’s office will offer free, in-person legal help at the workshops.
Long Beach is also partnering with community groups, including Centro CHA, the Long Beach Ministers Alliance and Goodwill Industries of Southern California, to reach potential candidates and help them find jobs.
Lacey said the idea is to consider offenders’ long term futures and to acknowledge that people change.
“Oftentimes, some of these convictions end up going to warrant because they did not complete the form that says they did their community service or they didn’t pay a fine, they let it go,” she said. “As soon as people apply for jobs, those things come up. They’re embarrassing, but more importantly, they’re impediments to people progressing.”