At the start of the fall semester, Kennedy Mattes ’23 founded an expungement initiative as an outgrowth of Students for Prison Education, Abolition, and Reform (SPEAR), a student group that has led a wide range of criminal justice related campus protests — from University divestment from private prisons, to “ban the box,” a movement to eliminate the conviction history question from undergraduate applications.
Currently, SPEAR attracts around 30 to 40 students to its weekly meetings, according to SPEAR Co-President Gina Feliz ’22, and seven students came to the first meeting of the expungement initiative on Sept. 13, according to Mattes.
Following legalization, more than 362,000 marijuana convictions have been automatically expunged since July 1, according to the New Jersey Judiciary as reported by the Asbury Park Press. But many of those whose records have been effectively cleared have not been informed of the change, Mattes explained.
“The state police are not informing people when their records have been expunged,” Mattes said she learned in her research. Those who remain in the dark about their change in record status, she said, may continue to avoid certain housing or jobs that formerly incarcerated people are barred from, or might continue “checking the box” indicating criminal history in applications despite no longer being legally obligated to do so.
That’s where the student initiative comes in.
“The initial goal was to spread awareness about this order so that people knew about it and could know whether they were on the list to receive an expungement,” Mattes told The Daily Princetonian. “And now, we’re taking on the overall objective of just making expungement information more accessible.”