A 'record changing' fair held this weekend helped a number of Angelenos take the first step in reducing a felony to a misdemeanor on their records — one of several changes allowed for by the passage of California's Prop 47.
The change could have a major impact on former felons' chances of getting a job or into school, since background checks are less likely to hinder their prospects.
The event took place at the Baldwin Hills Theatre Building in L.A., on Saturday, May 2. There, a group of attorneys spoke to former felons and ran many of their records to see if they qualified to have their records reduced.
L.A. County Assistant Public Defender Winston A. Peters said there is a list of specific charges that can be reduced under the voter-approved proposition.
"They tend to be non-violent, non-serious felonies," Peters said. They include some drug possession, petty theft and bad check writing charges, according to the California Dept. of Corrections and Rehabilitation's website.
"We reviewed [attendees'] records in depth at that site, which really helped us to narrow their issues and see whether they qualified," Peters said.
The next step is to follow up with each of the dozen or so former felons and begin the application process to have their records wiped clean.
"Most of the individuals we spoke with were relatively young," Peters said. "Probably in their twenties or early thirties. Most of them were local from Los Angeles."
Skipp Townsend, the executive director of 2nd Call, a nonprofit dedicated to reducing recidivism among incarcerated L.A. youth, attended Saturday's session.
He said he found he qualified to have a 1996 charge for cashing a fraudulent check reduced to a misdemeanor. The charge has dogged him in job interviews in the past.
"For the most part, when [potential employers] see the background check and they see my resume, they say, 'look, this doesn't match up'," Townsend said, adding that the charge is something he finds himself having to explain away in job interviews. "It becomes indicative of who I am, and it's just not me."
The record can also trip him up when his nonprofit work brings him to schools or county prisons, where background checks are often conducted before he can be admitted.
"Once that [charge is] removed, then I have no felony convictions," said Townsend. "It'll definitely change, I guess, how the system, how society views — their perception of me, even though I know I'm a good person."
Proposition 47 was passed in California in November 2014 with 58 percent of the vote, It changed six felonies into misdemeanors overnight: drug possession, having stolen property, theft, writing bad check and forgery — as long as the amount involved in the crimes didn't top $950.
Saturday's event was hosted by the nonprofit Californians for Safety and Justice.
Peters said similar 'record changing' outreach efforts are in the works that the county public defender's office intends on attending those as well, though no dates have been set. You can also reach out directly to their office at (213) 974-2811 or see their online FAQ.