Asian Americans Advancing Justice - LA

Building upon the legacy of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center

Record Expungement Clinic Gives Members of Underserved Communities a Chance at a Fresh Start

Friday, June 17th 2016

On May 21, Advancing Justice-LA co-hosted a Prop 47 and record expungement clinic at the Long Beach City College, Pacific Coast Campus. In partnership with the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, the Asian Pacific American Bar Association of Los Angeles County, the Asian Pacific American Women Lawyers Alliance, the L.A. Public Defender’s Office, the Drug Policy Alliance, Project ALOFA, and several community- and faith-based organizations, 29 volunteers assisted 37 individuals with Prop 47 and record expungement petitions.

Proposition 47 (“Prop 47”) is a law passed by California voters in November 2014, which reduced certain categories of low-level, nonviolent crimes from felonies or “wobblers” to misdemeanors. As one of the most significant policy shifts in California addressing the rise in mass incarceration, the new law intended to redirect millions in annual savings from freed up jail and prison beds towards mental health and drug treatment programs, trauma recovery victims services and K-12 education programs. The window to file a Prop 47 application or petition is currently set to close on November 4, 2017. However, new legislation, AB 2765, introduced this year proposes to extend that deadline to 2022.

The focus and approach of the Long Beach clinic in May was different than previous clinics hosted by Advancing Justice-LA and partner organizations, in that the clinic’s outreach efforts targeted the Khmer and Pacific Islander communities and focused on expanding partnerships with advocacy organizations that serve these communities.

To that end, Advancing Justice-LA, Empowering Pacific Islander Communities (EPIC) and other community partners also provided Khmer, Samoan, and Tongan language interpreters at the clinic to support service provision to limited English proficient speakers.

Ultimately, the clinic successfully reached populations that are underserved and often invisible, especially in the criminal and legal services context. Among others, this clinic served one transgender person, five Asian American and Pacific Islanders, and one Native American.

Attorney Paul Jung, a Staff Attorney at Advancing Justice-LA who leads the Criminal Justice Project, cautioned that “without a strategy tailored specifically to educate and address the needs of AANHPI communities, large swaths of these communities along with other traditionally marginalized communities are at risk of being unintentionally shut out of accessing relief under Prop 47. With this clinic, we therefore sought to be purposeful with targeted outreach to some of these communities.”

One volunteer Khmer interpreter, Advancing Justice-LA Community Legal Advocate Sophaleena Gershoff, explained that “Cambodians don’t inform anyone about their arrest and conviction from a young age except for their close family members. They try to hide their problems because of the stigma that an arrest and conviction record can place on their family. And they often feel so humiliated about their criminal record that they don’t expect anyone to reach out and help them.”

Gershoff provided translation for one Cambodian man at the May 21 clinic seeking help with removing several conviction records dating back decades ago. She said the client felt relieved after attending the clinic and said he would reach out to a few of his friends who would benefit from reclassifying or dismissing their criminal records.

Gershoff said, “Most people in the community are not aware that help is available. But once they find out, they often inform others through word of mouth. So by placing information about these clinics in ads, newspapers and television, the community’s eyes can be opened to these types of services.”

The clinic was also attended by a BIA-accredited immigration advocate from Advancing Justice-LA, Michelle Saucedo, who provided consultations for individuals concerned about the immigration consequences of their criminal convictions. “There is a growing realization that when serving AANHPI communities, these clinics need to also cover issues other than criminal law, such as immigration law, due to the heightened enforcement and increased criminalization of immigrants,” says Jung.

Advancing Justice-LA Pro Bono Director Christina Yang noted, “Another reason these criminal justice clinics are so valuable is because they encourage the participation of volunteer attorneys specifically in the criminal and immigration context, raising awareness about the crippling collateral consequences of criminal convictions, especially in communities of color—including the loss of civic and political rights and the inability to find housing and jobs, among many other things. We thank our dedicated partners and volunteers for making this work possible!”

If you would like to hear about future Prop 47 and record expungement clinics or to learn more about Advancing Justice-LA’s Criminal Justice Project, please contact:

Paul Jung

Staff Attorney, Advancing Justice-LA

[email protected]

 

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Our mission is to advocate for civil rights, provide legal services and education, and build coalitions to positively influence and impact Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders and to create a more equitable and harmonious society.