San Francisco to help clear marijuana citations using algorithm
- San Francisco's District Attorney George Gascón announced the city will use an algorithm developed by the nonprofit Code for America to help purge marijuana citations from citizens' criminal records.
- The algorithm will scan records to determine eligibility for clearance, fill out necessary forms and produce a completed motion in PDF form that can be filed in court. The process will move faster than the previous review, and can be done without a citizen protest.
- The passage of California’s Proposition 64, which legalized marijuana, also gave citizens the chance to petition for marijuana citations to be removed from their records. The review will be applied to nearly 5,000 marijuana convictions dating to 1975.
As states decriminalize marijuana, many are also trying to clear past drug convictions, which disproportionately affect African American and Latino populations relative to Caucasians, even when the rates of marijuana use are similar. SFDA was the first office in the country to promise to proactively dismiss or reduce old marijuana convictions, but barriers to the legal system and the burden to go through old records has meant that only 962 motions had been filed as of last week. Although the DA has discretion to clear misdemeanor convictions, felonies require more research; the algorithm can automatically process hundreds of records in minutes and subsequently prepare petitions.
Gascón said the process will help ensure people with marijuana convictions aren't discriminated against in hiring or housing. "Lack of access to employment and housing are two primary drivers of recidivism, so until we clear these records it’s government that is effectively holding these people back and impeding public safety,” he said in a statement.
SFDA is the first office to apply Code for America’s algorithm, but the nonprofit says it plans to expand the pilot to other counties, with a goal of clearing 250,000 convictions statewide by 2019. From there, the process could be applied to other record clearance efforts as an expansion of its “Clear My Record” program. Code for America founder and executive director Jennifer Pahlka said in a statement the technology could be used to help “rethink incarceration, reduce recidivism, and restore opportunity.”
Code for America has been trying to apply "civic hacking" to make government work more efficiently. The nonprofit also designed a new application process for California’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, a system that connects people on parole or probation with their case managers to reduce recidivism and Q&A systems for local governments.
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