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Justice Fair gives felons second chance at a life

STOCKTON — More than 1,000 people went to the first-ever San Joaquin Justice Fair on Saturday in search of a second chance and a path to becoming a more productive member of society.

The Justice Fair, held at San Joaquin Delta College, was designed to give convicted felons an opportunity to learn more about and apply for Proposition 47 record changes to remove nonviolent felonies from their criminal records, organizers said.

Prop. 47 was passed by California voters in November 2014. The legislation reclassified six nonviolent felonies as misdemeanors, including simple drug possession and petty theft offenses with a value of less than $950. The law also allows people to have prior felony convictions reduced to misdemeanors, clearing the way for them to pursue employment opportunities that previously were unavailable to them.

“When you have a criminal record in the state of California, there are over 4,800 barriers to jobs, education, housing and more,” said Jay Jordan, networks manager with Californians for Safety and Justice. “You can’t even get a barber’s license if you have a felony in the state of California. We cannot expect those individuals to lead a productive life when they can’t get a job, can’t get housing and can’t go to school. Proposition 47 helps remove those barriers so they can access these resources and so they won’t be in the streets.”

The Justice Fair was sponsored by Californians for Safety and Justice, the B. Wayne Hughes Jr. Foundation and local organizations such as Community Partnership for Families of San Joaquin, El Concilio, Fathers and Families of San Joaquin, Reinvent South Stockton and the United Way.

“By removing old, nonviolent felonies from their criminal records, people have a chance to live down the mistakes of their past and strengthen their economic and family security,” Andy Prokop, president and chief executive officer of the United Way of San Joaquin County, said in a written statement. “Our entire community benefits when we ensure people are able to fully and successfully reintegrate after paying their debt to society.”

About 75 attorneys were on hand to help participants with record change applications. Representatives from more than 25 community groups were there to link people to employment opportunities, housing opportunities and programs for children.

Among the many people who went to the Justice Fair seeking assistance were Solaiman Joshan, 37, of Manteca and Tammy Ryans, 48, of Stockton.

Joshan has been convicted of 13 felonies and spent most of the past 20 years in prison. He has tried to find work but has been unable to do so because of his criminal record.

“There are a lot of people who are in my shoes who are screaming for help on the inside, but they’re not asking for help because they’re ashamed of their background,” he said. “This has held me back for so long, but I’m here trying to get my life back together.”

Ryans was convicted of a felony in 1989 as a result of substance abuse.

“It has been a very big burden on me most of my life,” she said. “I felt hopeless. Now, I have a lot of hope. I’m really grateful.”

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