Community Coalition hosts a fair in Exposition Park to give legal help to reduce non-violent felonies.
Exposition Park was filled with over 5,000 people as everyone came out to raise awareness and learn more about proposition 47, which allows people to have their felonies changed to misdemeanors, on Sunday, Sept. 27.
People were lined up as early 4 a.m. for the fair, which lasted from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The fair was completely free and organized around the record change process. First, there was a station for people to obtain their record and receive a Live Scan, which normally costs $70. Then, there was a review station with attorneys, who all volunteered, to see if any of the convictions that can be changed under prop 47. After reviewing, there was a station for filling out the petitions, along with a station where a declaration is made. After putting all of this together, there was a Xerox and mailing station so that people can mail off their information to the courts and have their own copies as well. There were also other workshops on site dealing with health care, immigration, jobs and housing.
“You are convicted of a crime, you serve your time and your debt is supposed to be paid, but many of us, we understand that we can never change the past, therefore our debt is never paid,” said Susan Burton, founder of A New Way of Life Bridge Project. “To be here, watching the community show up in the thousands seeking relief from the burden of a felony conviction, is so hopeful and powerful.”
Proposition 47 was passed by California voters on November 4, 2014. It is a law that allows people who have had a prior felony record for low-level, nonviolent offenses, to change their record to a misdemeanor. The proposition covers felonies including simple drug possession, petty theft, shoplifting, forgery, writing a bad check, and receipt of stolen property. These all must be offenses of under $950.
“We crafted proposition 47 because California’s criminal justice system is broken. The public knows it and the public is ready for change. We literally waste billions of dollars per year on bloated and costly prisons that return people worse off than they were before,” said Lenore Anderson, coauthor of Proposition 47. “There’s a smarter way to protect our communities. We need to reinvest that money and stop wasting billions of dollars incarcerating too many people for too long, especially for nonviolent incidents, and we need to invest that money in treatment, prevention and community health.”
A felony is the most serious of crimes and is often associated with rape and murder, while a misdemeanor is a less serious crime, such as driving while intoxicated. When it comes to felonies, employment and housing are very affected and often result in refusal. Felonies can also result in losing the rights to serve on a jury, vote and even practice some professions.
“Once I found out about prop 47, I felt like everything it addressed fit for me, everything that they can reduce from felony to misdemeanor, I’ve had on my rap sheet,” said Winnetka Vaden, who works with Community Reflections Incorporated. “I started law school in 2001 and I was hindered because I had felonies, so I’ve been doing prop 47 events through my beauty salon and Southwest College to give people in the community a second chance to get their life and records clean.”
The fair helped out many people and gave them information on how to get their records clean. The services provided are usually costly, from $70 Live Scans to hiring an attorney to review records, and thousands of people were able to receive them for free.
“It was amazing, you have all ethnicities coming out to support this movement of criminal justice reform, giving folks a second chance and opening doors for people who have been in the system, said Gilbert Johnson, a member of Community Coalition, which put on the event. “I came out to get legal aid to get some of my felonies reduced and it was very helpful. I got a lot of clarity as far as what I need to do for next steps towards improving and getting my record cleaned.”
There will be another Proposition 47 event at Los Angeles Southwest College on Saturday, Oct. 3 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information on this event, visit southlaforprop47.org. For more information about the proposition, visit myprop47.org.