Through our direct legal services program, Lawyers’ Committee is able to identify areas within reentry and the broader criminal justice system in need of reform advocacy. On a policy level, we push for legislation at both the state and local level to reduce the barriers to reentry and improve opportunities for successful reintegration. We have also pursued litigation to protect the rights of people with prior records. Our policy work includes co-sponsoring legislation, shaping legislative proposals, providing technical expertise in support of legislation, testifying before legislative committees, educating legislators about reentry issues, and helping to organize among partners. Examples include:
2014 – The Fair Chance Ordinance is signed into law after a long and arduous effort led by the Lawyers’ Committee. The Fair Chance Ordinance will extend the City’s current fair hiring policies, known commonly as “ban the box” to private businesses, affordable housing, and contracting. The Lawyers’ Committee developed and championed the ordinance knowing how critical it is to remove unnecessary barriers to stable housing and employment for individuals with conviction records.
2013 – AB 651 (Bradford), the Reentry & Employment Opportunities Act. Co-sponsored by the Lawyers’ Committee, under this law, people sentenced under Realignment will have the opportunity to clean up their records upon a showing of rehabilitation.
2013 – SB 530 (Wright), California Expungement, prohibits employers from asking about, using or considering convictions that have been set aside and dismissed (commonly known as “expunged”). It also amended the Penal Code to allow the courts to grant Certificates of Rehabilitation to meritorious applicants before the end of the statutory waiting period. The amendment to the Labor Code provided critical clarity about the rights and protections afforded to people who have cleaned up their records, and created discretion for judges to waive the long 7-10 year waiting period and grant a Certificate of Rehabilitation in appropriate cases.
2012 – The Lawyers’ Committee filed a lawsuit to protect the voting rights of people who have been sentenced for low-level, non-violent offenses under the state’s historic reform of criminal justice known as “Realignment.” The lawsuit was filed on behalf of All of Us or None, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, and the League of Women Voters of California, three organizations committed to voting rights and reintegration of people with convictions, as well as a woman confined in San Francisco jail who wishes to vote.
2011 – The Lawyers’ Committee challenged the San Francisco Housing Authority’s practice of banning people from its properties. The Housing Authority was using civil injunctions, nearly all of which were entered by default judgment, to prevent people from entering any of its properties and from even being present on any street bordering Housing Authority property at any point. The scope was exceedingly broad, and the negative impact far outweighed any claimed justification for the practice. For example, a San Francisco father was arrested multiple times for visiting his infant son. The San Francisco Superior Court held that the injunctions were unconstitutional and the practice has since ceased.
Community Outreach and Education
As part of our direct service and systemic reform efforts, Lawyers’ Committee provides ongoing outreach and education to the community. We offer “know your rights” workshops to community-based organizations, in which we provide an overview of the law relating to criminal records and employment. We also host community events, geared toward our pro bono attorney volunteers and our community partners, in which we explore the civil rights and racial justice issues related to the criminal justice system.