The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and a tech industry lobbying group are partnering with the Koch brothers' political network to launch a bipartisan initiative aimed at automatically clearing the criminal records of eligible offenders, the Washington Post reports.
With support from the lobbying group fwd.us, the Seminar Network, and CZI — the primary philanthropic vehicle of Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan — the Clean Slate initiative will work to pass state and federal legislation that would create digital systems that automatically clear offenders' records of crimes such as marijuana possession and other non-violent offenses, eliminating a time-intensive and costly petition process for those who are eligible. Clean Slate legislation already has been signed into law in Pennsylvania, and the coalition is making a push to ensure that other states follow suit.
According to the Center for American Progress, between seventy million and a hundred million Americans, or as much as 30 percent of the U.S. population, have some kind of criminal record, while tens of millions are eligible to have their records cleared or expunged so that prior offenses no longer turn up in background checks. Yet many Americans are unaware they are eligible for such programs, and even those who do seek to have their records cleared must undergo an expensive court petitioning process that frequently requires the hiring of a lawyer, said Rebecca Vallas, vice president of CAP's Poverty to Prosperity Program. In addition, criminal records exist in many different digital systems at various levels of government. To move the first Clean Slate law through the Pennsylvania General Assembly, Vallas worked with Sharon Dietrich, litigation director and managing attorney at Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, who determined that the only way to effectively address the problem was to clear the records automatically.
"There's been a big technological challenge here," David Plouffe, CZI's president of policy and advocacy, told the Post. CZI has supported the development of technology needed for the effort by providing funding to Code for America, which builds technology services for government. The Clean Slate initiative is part of CZI's efforts to expand opportunities for people with criminal convictions, one of the three main focus areas of its Justice & Opportunity Initiative.
"The tech world is going to be essential to reforms in the future," said Koch Industries general counsel Mark Holden, adding that the Koch network may also team up with Silicon Valley on cash bail reform.