By Brian Henry
When San Francisco expunged from its system last month more than 9,000 marijuana convictions, some dating back to 1975, it became the first U.S. city to take such a sweeping, proactive move. District Attorney George Gascón told Cheddar on Tuesday that the action would not have been possible without the help of a technology non-profit and the computer algorithm it developed.
"When marijuana became legalized in the state and it got implemented in 2018, we realized very quickly that most of the people who qualified for relief were not going to get there on their own," Gascón told Cheddar.
"I gave instructions that we would begin to do the process. At that time we were having to do it manually and we knew that was going to be a lot of work and we were looking for a technological solution."
That's when Gascón's team partnered with Code for America, which was able to create an algorithm that determined the eligibility of thousands of convictions.
"We were able to clear out over 8,000 with their system ー we cleared out a little over a thousand manually."
"We're doing all the work. What we're trying to do is get the word out that this is happening. We're filing all the cases now with the courts," Gascón told Cheddar. "We're very excited about the relief we're going to provide for people in our community."
Gascón told Cheddar it was important that this aspect of the process was handled proactively, noting that just 23 people came forward to do something about their prior convictions before the city began combing through records.
"We know that most other people that have a criminal record do not have the facilities, do not have the resources to hire an attorney or go to a clinic and get the filing process, the court process. We're going to start looking at other areas of the law where we can provide the same relief."
Gascón said the move will bring greater fairness to marijuana legalization in California.
"Drug use in this country has been equal across racial, ethnic lines, gender. But yet the people who have also been the subjects of the criminal justice system's attention has been people of color, poor people."
Gascón stressed that the issue goes beyond equity and extends to offering the citizens of San Francisco a dignity they weren't previously afforded.
"People that have a criminal conviction, especially a felony, are also marginalized to the point where they cannot get housing, they cannot get employment, they cannot participate in after-hour school activities for their kids. They cannot get a license in certain lines of work," he said. "There is just a whole host of things that are prohibited when you have that scarlet letter and we want to get that out of the way."
For full interview click here.