CHICAGO (CBS) -- Tens of thousands of people arrested for drugs in Cook County could soon get a life-changing letter in the mail that would amount to an automatic clean slate.
Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx announced the program on Tuesday. It is intended to expunge the criminal records of people convicted of marijuana charges more quickly.
"A low-level marijuana conviction does not mean that someone is a threat to public safety," Foxx said.
The program is part of a partnership with the 501(c)(3) Code for America, and many people will be eligible as marijuana becomes legal in January. It is called Clear My Record, is meant to help government automatically clear convictions eligible under the law.
"The technology and innovation made possible through our partnership with Code for America will help us provide broad and equitable conviction relief for tens of thousands of people while ensuring that more of our time and resources can be used to combat violent crime," said Foxx.
"Code for America's partnership with Cook County expands our Clear My Record program to a second state and further proves that justice can happen at the scale and speed we know is possible in the digital age," said Jennifer Pahlka, Founder and Executive Director, Code for America. "Thanks to the leadership of State's Attorney Foxx, we'll provide conviction relief expeditiously, at reduced cost, and in bulk in Illinois, and help tens of thousands of individuals get a fresh start. And we'll continue to show that government can work as it should for all people, when we bring government into the 21st century."
As CBS 2's Megan Hickey reported, the program might sound too good to be true. But the program has worked successfully in California, and the District Attorney in San Francisco explained how – while acknowledging some roadblocks.
Code for America software has the ability to process about 10,000 records per minute. Pahlka said it will be provided at zero cost to Cook County.
"This work has been funded by a large group of diverse individuals and institutions who care about justice," Pahlka said.
So we wanted to know – does it really work?
"It is true, and it does work," said San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón.
Gascón would know. His office piloted the program in 2018.
Using the Clear My Record technology, the San Francisco DA's office was able to wipe away all 9,361 eligible marijuana convictions months ahead of schedule.
"What was originally an 18-month due date, we were able to get it done in 13 months," Gascón said.
He said there were roadblocks for the first year – cleaning out the data and make it possible to run through the program.
Cook County will start by expunging the most recent convictions, starting an. 1, 2013 through Jan. 1, 2020, and moving backwards.
On Tuesday, Foxx acknowledged that the process will be slower for the older records that aren't yet digitized.
Still, Gascón 's review is glowing, and he's glad Cook County is following their model.
Not all cannabis offenses will be eligible for automatic expungement. For example, if the person was arrested for something else at the same time or if it was accompanied by another conviction, they will not be eligible.
Further, the State's Attorney's Office cannot unilaterally vacate a conviction, so the issue must still go before a judge.
But the process will not require any intervention by the person affected, Foxx confirmed.
Illinois residents will be able to possess and purchase marijuana in licensed stores starting Jan. 1 of next year.
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