Contributing Authors: Assistant District Attorney Otis Bruce Jr., Public Defender David Joseph Sutton, Probation Chief Marlon Washington, District Attorney Lori Frugoli, and Mary Sackett.

The world is tough to navigate. It is constantly changing, confusing, and often overwhelming—and having a criminal conviction on your record is a complexity multiplier. Fortunately, for those who have paid their debts to society, the County of Marin’s Clean Slate Program is aimed at removing some of the barriers for those looking for a fresh start.

The criminal justice system—including the war on drugs, three-strikes legislation and many current immigration laws—have been unequally enforced. Criminal records can be crippling, costly, and limit employment options and opportunities. Without self-sufficiency, a job and hope, recidivism increases.

The Clean Slate Program aims to remove some of the barriers by clearing a participant’s record, terminating their probation, or dismissing their conviction. The program synchronizes help from the Public Defender’s Office, the District Attorney’s Office, and the Probation Department at one place and one time. The services from the three agencies, in addition to the Department of Health and Human Services, brings assistance directly to residents in their own neighborhood. “Collaborating with our justice partners fulfills our initiative to help qualified applicants expunge and reduce their prior convictions,” added District Attorney Lori E. Frugoli.

Clean Slate hosted an inaugural Marin City event in February 2022. The event linked together Black History Month, historically Black Marin City, and Black leaders in criminal justice. Dozens showed up to take advantage of the programs. On June 1st, the Clean Slate Program was at the Multicultural Center of Marin in San Rafael. Those seeking to clean up their record brought relevant documents, including past correspondence and Department of Justice records. Spanish translators were on hand to help with health or immigration-related relief as well. The Department of Health and Human Services offered assistance with public benefits such as Medi-Cal, CalFresh food assistance, CalWORKS services, employment training, and general financial relief for families. COVID-19 vaccinations and boosters were available as well. Plans are in the works to create similar events in other Marin neighborhoods where needs are particularly strong.

The Clean Slate program is the brainchild of Public Defender David Joseph Sutton, Assistant District Attorney Otis Bruce Jr., Probation Chief Marlon Washington, and D’Angelo Paillet, Division Director of Social Services, Employment and Training in the Marin Health and Human Services Department. “The collaboration toward resident self-sufficiency is in the best interest of the residents, the community, and the judicial system. This is a win-win.” said David Joseph Sutton

Assistant District Attorney Bruce added that “Our Clean Slate Program is intentional and in line with social justice and equity initiatives, and inspired by the County’s 2 Year Internal and External Action Plan addressing the need in our county for more connections to the community and representation around the issues of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Belonging, Innovation and Change. As Criminal Justice Partners and representatives of our county’s departments, we are obligated to carry out this important plan and this important work.”

Bruce and Sutton explain how this kind of one-stop-shop collaboration aims to bring county services out of the Civic Center and into communities of need. Bringing government into the community to remove barriers, answer questions, and connect residents and services breaks down access to justice barriers and is good policy.