What’s New in Civic Tech: CfA Helps Erase 8,000 Pot Convictions

Plus, a new report shows Seattle has increased citywide Internet connectivity to 95 percent; Washington, D.C., launches a new demographic data dashboard; Hipcamp shares federal camping availability in real time; and more.

by / February 28, 2019
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Code for America (CfA), a nonpartisan and nonprofit national organization aimed at helping government use tech to better serve real people, recently helped San Francisco automatically clear 8,132 marijuana convictions.

The work was done in collaboration with San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón as part of a criminal justice reform project. Before the collaboration, the district attorney’s office had previously expunged 1,230 marijuana-related convictions, bringing the total number cleared to 9,362, the total number of convictions the office had identified for dismissal. The work was all done after a decision to retroactively honor the recreation legalization of marijuana in San Francisco for adults 21 or over dating back to 1975.

The project CfA helped build is called Clear My Record, and it uses an algorithm to read and interpret data in order to automatically evaluate eligibility for convictions to be cleared, doing its work in just a few minutes, according to press release from the organization. In the past, to have clearing convictions required individuals to petition the court on their own. That process was often time consuming and costly. With Clear My Record, individuals were able to get their convictions cleared without taking any action on their own.

In its press release, CfA described this work as a new standard for record clearing throughout California.

“This novel approach creates a blueprint for the future — the development of policy and technology that expands, streamlines and automates the record clearance process at scale to reduce barriers to employment, housing, health, and education that millions of Americans face,” the group said in the release. “And there are lessons in this work that can help many other procedures in the justice system and beyond work better for every American.”

Report: Seattle Increases Citywide Internet Connectivity to 95 Percent

A new report shows that 95 percent of households in Seattle have Internet access, which marks a 10 percent increase since 2014.

The progress was unveiled by the city earlier this week with the release of its 2018 Technology Access and Adoption study. In a press release, the city noted that “while there are still barriers that exist to many households, the survey shows progress in the city’s goal to improve digital equity in Seattle households.”

“In Seattle, we know that access to fast, reliable Internet is an equity issue. Our city is more connected than ever before — but we still have a lot of work to do to fill the gaps. More and more, digital access and digital skills are prerequisites to gaining access to jobs and opportunity,” Mayor Jenny Durkan said in the release. “Thanks to the Technology Access and Adoption study, we know our low-income and insecurely-housed communities are experiencing lower levels of connectedness — and their digital skill levels are suffering as a result. This study will help us as we work to improve digital access and equity for all of Seattle’s residents.”

Seattle has conducted this study intermittently five times dating back to the year 2000. The central purpose is to gauge the level of access residents there have to Internet and other advanced digital technologies. The methodology of the study involves more than 20,000 randomly selected residents asked for answers via mail, phone or online means. For this year’s report, 4,315 household surveys were collected between May 23 and June 25, 2018, totalling 10,358 residents.  

Other key data in the report includes that 21 percent of households with annual income less than $25,000 do not have Internet at home; households with multiple adults or with children are more likely to have faster connections than those with single adults; and reasons that residents don’t use Internet include cost, speed and confusing service plans.

Seattle has long been a pioneer in the digital equity space, offering a civic tech matching fund before digital inclusion was on most jurisdictions’ radars.

Washington, D.C., Office of Planning Launches Demographic Data Dashboard

The Washington, D.C., Office of Planning State Data Center has launched a new demographic data dashboard through its data visualization portal.

This new platform is an interactive means for residents and others to find accurate and up-to-date information about demographic trends taking place within the nation’s capital. Data sets available through the dashboard range from population size to poverty rates. They can also be sorted by wards, as well as by year, age, race and gender.

The idea, the city notes in a press release, is to help stakeholders — including citizens, government agencies and members of community groups — get a useful analysis that can be used in strategic planning, policy creation, business development and other pursuits.

“OP is committed to open data and transparency of information for the public,” said Acting Director Andrew Trueblood in a press release. “We are looking for ways to better meet residents where they are, both in terms of engagement and visualization, and this user-friendly Data Visualization Portal makes popular demographic charts and data much more accessible for residents, researchers and other stakeholders.”  

The platform was built through a collaboration between the city’s office of the chief technology officer and its office of planning. To make things even easier for interested parties, the planning office also provides free technical support, assistance and training on how to access Census Bureau data for local nonprofit groups, governmental agencies, researchers, community groups and members of the general public.

Hipcamp Offers Real-Time Federal Campsite Availability Info

Folks looking to get real-time information about whether federal campsites are available have a new resource: Hipcamp.

Hipcamp is a for-profit website that bills itself as an online marketplace that helps facilities users discover unique camping experiences. It has a catalogue of more than 370,000 private and public camping options, and now it has expanded its selection to also include federal camping choices. For example, if one wanted to plan a camping trip to Yosemite National Park, one could simply visit Hipcamp’s Yosemite page and do it through there.

It’s a cool functionality, one that developers have built by API integration with Recreation.gov. In a blog announcing the addition, Hipcamp notes that this is also the result of “years of grassroots organizing for the adoption of open data standards in public campsite reservations.”

“This marks a major step forward in making the campsite reservation process more seamless and less frustrating, ultimately helping us fulfill our mission to get more people outside,” the company wrote in its announcement.

Zack Quaintance Assistant News Editor

Zack Quaintance is the assistant news editor for Government Technology. His background includes writing for daily newspapers across the country and developing content for a software company in Austin, Texas. He is now based in Washington, D.C. He can be reached via email.