An Update from Just City
Just City continues to lead the way in expungement reform in Tennessee. In July of 2019, the State's portion of the expungement fee was completely eliminated thanks to legislation we introduced; it was endorsed and championed by Governor Bill Lee during his first legislative session. The only remaining fee is a mandatory $100 local fee. Over the last three legislative sessions, we have led the effort to bring the state portion of the expungement fee from the third highest in the country at $350 to zero. In addition to our legislative advocacy, we have two full-time employees who work almost exclusively on expungements. Our monthly expungement rate has gone from 7 per month to 13 per month over the last two years. In addition, we have significantly automated the process of determining eligibility. We wrote a program that allows us to automatically and immediately determine whether an applicant qualifies for expungement. This tool has allowed us to reach more people and respond more quickly with fewer staff resources. In total, we have secured more than 525 expungements since the creation of the Clean Slate Fund.
The Memphis Community Bail Fund has accelerated its work since July 2019. In fact, 123 of the more than 175 people we have bailed out have been bailed out since then. We have also implemented a text message reminder system for our bail fund clients. They receive weekly court appearance reminders beginning three weeks from the court date. This system and an excellent relationship with the referring attorneys in the public defender’s office has led to a very low forfeiture rate. Even more promising, we found that nearly 70|PERCENT| of disposed cases have been dismissed entirely, allowing our clients to have their records cleared and move forward with their lives. We know that many, many people enter guilty pleas in exchange for release, and our bail fund is disrupting that unfair and unjust pattern.
In September 2019 we partnered with the Shelby County Public Defender's Office to pilot a text reminder system for its out of custody clients. Out of more than 300 scheduled court appearances during the final quarter of 2019, only one person missed court, an astonishing rate compared to typical failure to appear rates.
Our COVID response has entailed a whole lot more bailouts. We've bailed out 72 people since March 1. We've paid more than $150,000 in bails during that time. That's the only significant development. If you want, you could mention that it was in partnership with local donors and national support from Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights and the Tides Center. This is one of the largest COVID response bailouts. So, maybe don't say that, but it's fairly significant.