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article imageJustice algorithm wipes the criminal past of thousands

By Tim Sandle     Apr 30, 2019 in Technology
San Fransisco - An algorithm has been developed which can, at the touch of a button, delete the criminal records of thousands of people. Such measures are undertaken when sufficient time has served and individuals can be granted a clean sheet.
Conventionally the process of removing a person's criminal record is undertaken manually, a process that takes time and one where errors can occur. The purpose of the new algorithm is to make the activity more efficient. The algorithm is being tested within the state of California where it is possible to have a criminal record removed under different circumstances, such as by 'time served' or by a certain activity becoming decriminalized (as with some cannabis related charges, which can be expunged under California’s Proposition 64, the 2016 measure that made marijuana legal in the state).
The algorithm was tested out in April 2019 where, as the BBC reports, a judge in California deleted thousands of criminal records with one press of a keypad. The new algorithm reduces a process that took months to mere minutes. In contrast the conventional expungement process takes hours, and this normally occurs only a select times of year when officials visit a particular locale and when those seeking to have a record expunged have the time to attend (or are aware that expungement is possible at all).
The algorithm was developed by Code For America, a non-profit organisation. Part of Code for America's remit is to address the widening gap between the public and private sectors through the effective use of technology and systems design. The algorithm is called the 'Clear My Record' program.
The Clear My Record program works by the algorithm parsing through thousands of lines of conviction data and determines eligibility within minutes. Then that recommendation is passed onto the District Attorney and eventually for the courts to update.
By using the new algorithm San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón has indicated his office would expunge more than 9,000 felony and misdemeanor cannabis convictions, some dating back to 1975. To add to this, Code for America has suggested that it aims to clear 250,000 convictions throughout California by the end of 2019.
Quoted by OnePage, Gascón adds that simplifying the expunging process is important: "It was the morally right thing to do. If you have a felony conviction, you are automatically excluded in so many ways from participating in your community...You have to hire an attorney. You have to petition the court. You have to come for a hearing...It’s a very expensive and very cumbersome process.”
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