Once shunned, people convicted of felonies find more employers open to hiring them

Image source: Mel Melcon, Los Angeles Times (All Rights Reserved)

According to this Los Angeles Times article, all across the country, as the economy surges and employers struggle to find enough workers, individuals with felony and other criminal records are finding a sliver of a silver lining in the dark cloud of the pandemic.

Journalist Don Lee reports that, in the summer of 2021, U.S. employers reported an unprecedented 10.9 million job openings. That, Lee says, was equal to more than one job for every unemployed person in the country.

In response, a growing number of companies are beginning to tap into a huge, largely ignored labor pool: the roughly 20 million Americans, mostly men and many unemployed, who have felony convictions.

Read more about increased efforts to hire individuals with a criminal record

Webinar: Growing Momentum for Clean Slate and Fair Chance Licensing in the States

In an April 2021 event, the Center for American Progress, National Employment Law Project, and Community Legal Services of Philadelphia hosted a conversation with several of the state leaders behind recent transformative policy wins that offer a model for state and federal policymakers to put second chances within reach for workers and families facing the stigma of a criminal record.

The event highlighted that, in recognition that a criminal record should not be a life sentence to poverty and joblessness, bipartisan momentum for both “clean slate” automatic record clearance and fair chance licensing has exploded in recent years, with dozens of states advancing these policy reforms to remove barriers to economic security for their justice-impacted residents. As leaders at all levels of government work to “build back better,” removing barriers to employment for workers with records is even more urgently needed amid the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and downturn to ensure not only a full but an equitable recovery that does not leave tens of millions of justice-impacted individuals and families behind.

The event was moderated by Rebecca Vallas, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress and featured distinguished guests Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist of Michigan as well as panelists:

Rep. Jordan Harris (D), Minority Whip, Pennsylvania General Assembly
Sharon Dietrich, Litigation Director, Community Legal Services of Philadelphia
Josh Hoe, Policy Analyst, Safe and Just Michigan
Whitley Carpenter, Criminal Justice Staff Attorney, Forward Justice
Jael Myrickr, Interim Director, Clean Slate Practice, East Bay Community Law Center

Access the recorded event from the Center for American Progress

More States Consider Automatic Criminal Record Expungement

Image source: Anna Nichols, The Associated Press (All Rights Reserved) 

A May 2021 Stateline article from The Pew Charitable Trusts reveals that a growing number of states are trying to ease the burden of criminal records expungement and record clearing by making the process automatic, without requiring any action by the people seeking to clear their records. About 1 in 3 U.S. adults, some 70 million people, have a criminal record, including those who were arrested but not convicted. The article’s author asserts that these records have long-lasting consequences that can hinder a person’s access to employment, housing or a professional license.

According to the article, many people who are eligible fail to get their records cleared because the process can be costly and complicated. The article points to a 2020 study by two University of Michigan law professors found 90% of those eligible in Michigan don’t apply. A key reason for this, the author asserts, is that, in states that allow for certain criminal records to be sealed or expunged but don’t have an automatic process, people must file a petition in court, which is complicated and expensive. Then the courts must process each petition individually.

As of May 2021, Stateline found a dozen bills introduced across 10 states this year that push for automatic clearing, expungement or sealing of criminal records. Supporters say these bills are necessary to get millions of people back to work, but critics argue that sealing criminal records could threaten public safety.

Learn more about efforts in Virginia, Texas, Michigan and beyond in Stateline

JPMorgan Chase & Company’s Jamie Dimon Talks Second Chance Hiring

In an August 2021 opinion guest essay in The New York Times, JPMorgan Chase & Company chairman and chief executive Jamie Dimon expresses his “moral outrage” for the more than 70 million Americans with an arrest or criminal record that face financial, legal and logistical roadblocks that prevent them from securing good jobs after after they have paid their debt to society. He points to the fact that nearly half of formerly incarcerated people are unemployed one year after leaving prison.

“This group is ready to work and deserves a second chance — an opportunity to fill the millions of job openings across the country. Yet our criminal justice system continues to block them from doing so.”

In the essay, Dimon discusses the steps JPMorgan Chase & Company have taken to help overcome some of these barriers, including “banning the box” asking about a candidate’s criminal or arrest records on initial job applications, establishing a Second Chance hiring program, that provides legal services, job search support and mentorship, and partnered with other employers like Accenture, CVS, Eaton, General Motors, McDonald’s, Microsoft, Verizon and Walmart to form the Second Chance Business Coalition, which allows businesses to develop and share best practices and test new approaches to help support the hiring and advancement of people with criminal backgrounds.

“In part because of these efforts, we hired approximately 2,100 people with a criminal background in 2020 — roughly 10 percent of our new hires in the United States that year.”

Despite these highlights in the corporate world, Dimon expresses that “to create real systemic change, we need better public policy.” He points to the various forms of “Clean Slate” legislation making their way through Congress and U.S. state capitals, aimed at helping clear or seal eligible criminal records, open access to jobs and increase earnings by about 20 percent. He points also to the great progress states like Pennsylvania, Utah, Michigan, New Jersey, Virginia, Connecticut and Delaware have made in passing or enacting similar bipartisan clean slate legislation but contends that C.E.O.s and community leaders must urge more states and the federal government to pursue similar legislative solutions.

Read Dimon’s full essay in The New York Times

Portage Court Programs Help Seal Criminal Records

By Staff Report

RAVENNA — Portage County Clerk of Courts Jill Fankhauser announced this week a pilot program that would help criminal defendants remove sealed or expunged court records from online databases where they might interfere with future background checks.

After a court seals or expunges a record, most people assume their record is deleted from online databases. However, if a background company is not diligent in maintaining its data, it is common for criminal records to remain on background checks after they have been sealed. This can cause problems for those who are trying to get a job or better housing.

The program, which will run through September, will expedite the removal of such records from background checks. The first-in-the-nation service gives defendants the option to pay an additional $45 fee whent they apply to seal or expunge their record.

“This service is funded by the applicants, so it does not use the taxpayers money for the service. It will save taxpayers money in the long run as it helps people get back to work faster and reduce the chances of recidivism,” Fankhauser said.

If an expungement motion is granted, the clerk’s office will notify a law firm selected by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, which will then notify the agency that maintains the online database to remove the record, increasing their chances that a criminal record will no longer appear on a background check.

A person seeking to have their record expunged without this program would normally pay hundreds of dollars.

Those interested in the service should act quickly, as the program could end in September when the state reassesses its effectiveness.

“We have seen first-hand how the benefits of this service can dramatically improve lives and help deserving people get back to work or find better housing.” Fankhauser said. “We hope many citizens will take advantage of this opportunity.”

Ninth BREES Expungement Event Coming in June

brproud

By Michael Sheidt

BATON ROUGE, La. (LOCAL 33) (FOX 44) – For those with East Baton Rouge convictions, your next opportunity to expunge them from your record is coming next month.

The ninth BREES expungement event is scheduled to occur on June 2nd from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The event will be held at 8894 Airline Highway, Suite Q in the Connell’s Village Shopping Center.

The ninth installment comes on the heels of the successful expungement event on May 5.

A group of all-volunteer staff from the EBR District Attorney, the BR Public Defender, the BR City Prosecutor and the Clerks of both the 19th Judicial District Court and the BR City Court helped more than 55 people during the four hour event.

According to Public Defender Mike Mitchell, “due to the high volume this program has achieved, he has had to increase the number of volunteer attorneys from three to six.”

Individuals with convictions can have their records expunged any day of the week, just show up at the EBR Clerk of Court to begin the process.

The EBR Clerk of Court is located at 300 North Boulevard.

Stadelman Announces Chance to Expunge or Seal Criminal Records

mystateline.com

By Karina Parada

ROCKFORD – About one in three Americans have at least one arrest on the books. Senator Steve Stadelman along with Prairie State Legal Services and United Way of Rock River Valley want to help those who have past transgressions to make a stride in employment and helping them support themselves and their families.

Stadelman announced his ‘Second Chance Summit’ at a press conference on Sunday. Local attorneys will volunteer at the free event to review applicant’s backgrounds to determine if they’re eligible for having their criminal records expunged or sealed.

“How are people going to turn their life around?” asked Stadelman. “If every time they apply for a job that record that happened maybe 10,15, 20 years ago prevents them from getting the job?”

Stadelman says the event to help the formerly incarcerated can potentially reduce crime in the long run.  He says when former offenders struggle to find a job, they are more likely to break the law again.

“There have been studies that show that almost half of ex-offenders in the State of Illinois end up back in prison within three years of their release.”

Prairie State Legal Services managing attorney Kimberly Thielbar says their office tries to represent as many clients their resources allows them to. She hopes the summit can reach a wider net of those who want to change their lives around.

“We see many clients come through our doors who are just trying to support their families, support themselves.” said Thielbar. “Among the many barriers they face is having that criminal record in their background.”

David Black became a Prairie State volunteer lawyer after practicing law for nearly forty years. He says it’s best to offer a second chance to those who seek it.

“I’ve been in that partnership for a little over a year,” said Black. “I’ve already had 136 referrals from [Prairie State]. I say that to show the vast need in this community for this kind of a service.”

The Second Chance Summit will take place on Saturday June 16th at the Nordlof Center.

To register, click here.

Gov. Charlie Baker Signs Landmark Massachusetts Criminal Justice Overhaul, Despite Concerns

Mass Live

By Shira Schoenberg

BOSTON — Gov. Charlie Baker on Friday signed a major overhaul of Massachusetts’ criminal justice system, calling it a bill that “takes our criminal justice system and makes it better.”

The 121-page bill includes myriad policy changes that will divert more people to treatment and programming, make jails more humane and help people convicted of crimes move on with their lives. Advocates cheered the bill as the product of years of work and the most comprehensive criminal justice overhaul in years.

Baker acknowledged that he had some concerns with the bill, and he filed a new bill Friday that would make some fixes to the law.

But, Baker said, “The very positive elements of the bill far outweigh some of the concerns we have.”

Baker also filed a request to the Legislature for $15 million to begin implementing the law this year. He estimates that state agencies will require $40 million in fiscal 2019 to do things like hiring new staff and purchasing equipment and software to fulfill the law’s requirements.

Among the many provisions: The new law eliminates a handful of mandatory minimum sentences for drug dealing. It creates a process for records to be expunged for juveniles and young adults and for convictions for offenses that are no longer crimes, like marijuana possession.

The bill raises the minimum age of criminal responsibility from seven to 12 years old and decriminalizes some minor offenses for juveniles. It changes the way bail and fines and fees are levied to take into account someone’s ability to pay. It raises the threshold at which theft is considered a felony. It requires more humane conditions for inmates in solitary confinement.

The bill strengthens penalties for trafficking in the dangerous opioids fentanyl and carfentanil and for repeatedly driving drunk.

Baker also signed a separate bill, which was the result of a year-long task force examining recidivism in Massachusetts. That bill enhances the programming available in prison and jails, enhances community supervision and expands behavioral health resources.

The criminal justice overhaul had bipartisan support. Some of the Legislature’s most liberal Democrats and House Speaker Robert DeLeo, D-Winthrop, stood behind the Republican Baker during the bill signing, alongside Republican legislative leaders. Attorney General Maura Healey and Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan, both Democrats, also attended.

To continue reading, please click here 

Salt Lake County’s First ‘Expungement Day’ Helps Dozens Clear Criminal Records

Deseret News

By Katie McKellar

SALT LAKE CITY — More than 20 years ago, Denette Young said she relapsed into a cocaine addiction, which would lead her to carry a burden for the rest of her life: a felony drug conviction.

That was 1997. Since then, Young said she hasn’t had any more drug charges and has turned her life around. And yet, that felony charge — preceded by a separate 1992 felony charge for drug possession in Colorado — continues to haunt her.

“I’ve been turned down for jobs, for housing. I’ve been denied custody of my grandsons,” Young said.

“But today is a big deal,” she said Thursday. “A big deal.”

Young was among dozens of applicants participating in Salt Lake County’s first ever “Expungement Day,” where a team of prosecutors, attorneys, judges and others joined forces to help streamline the complicated and at times expensive process to clear eligible criminal records so, legally, applicants can start with a clean slate.

Rows of tables and computers lined the St. Vincent de Paul Dining Hall across the street from the Rio Grande homeless shelter Thursday, where attorneys met with clients to fill out and exchange paperwork.

Young was on her way to her own appointment with an attorney, after her application with Salt Lake County qualified.

“This will no longer be shadowing my life,” she said. “It didn’t matter what I did in my life for the last 25 years. What mattered is that I had a felony.”

Meanwhile, Mindy Sipes was already exchanging paperwork with an attorney. She hoped to clear forgery and theft convictions that have been stamped on her record since 1998, when she said she stole checks and forged signatures when she was 18.

She said it’s a “horrible feeling” to check the box on job applications acknowledging she has been convicted of a felony.

“This is a blessing,” Sipes said. “I cried on my way here because of the emotion of finally being able to not check that box or have somebody see that and think I’m a horrible person anymore.”

Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams, at a press event to kick off the day, lauded the program as a way to bring those who have “paid their debts to society” to come out of the “shadows” and remove barriers to work, housing and education.

“These individuals today are law-abiding, taxpaying citizens who are trying to move forward but they continue to be held back by their past mistakes,” McAdams said. “Some couldn’t afford to expunge their records. Others told us the system was too complicated and they didn’t know where to start.

“So today, we’re giving those individuals a chance to hit reset, to start over, and to have a clean slate,” McAdams said.

The program was made possible by $19,200 in private donations to cover the costs of application and certification fees, along with 40 volunteer attorneys.

Kaytline Beckett, one of those attorneys, said she was “incredibly excited” to see all of the services in one room — from prosecutors to judges and other social service programs — so even those who might not qualify for an expungement now could be redirected to other services that could help them eventually become eligible.

“Navigating the legal process can be difficult, and expungement comes with a lot of paperwork, so it’s just a good opportunity to assist people who wouldn’t normally know this was an option, let alone know how to follow through with it,” Beckett said.

After Salt Lake County began accepting expungement applications in February, more than 400 people called asking to participate in the program, said Noella Sudbury, the county’s senior policy adviser on criminal justice. Of those, 52 people applied and 32 qualified and were issued 191 certificates showing legal proof of expungement eligibility. Of those, eight applicants were issued 10 or more certificates per person.

Thursday afternoon, additional participants in the Rio Grande area were welcomed to fill out applications on a walk-in basis. By the end of the day, 73 applicants were served, though not all left with complete expungements, said McAdams spokeswoman Michelle Schmitt.

However, about 75 people lined up outside the dining hall were turned away because they couldn’t be paired with an attorney in time. Schmitt said there’s “definitely a possibility” the county may do another Expungement Day, but the county will have to study the results of the event to see if it makes sense to do it again.

Counties Offer Clean Slates for Second Chances

National Association of Counties (NACo) County News

By Nastassia Walsh

The Clean Slate Clearinghouse provides access to statutory information related to criminal record clearance policies in all states and territories

An estimated 70 million adults in the United States —one in three — have some sort of criminal record.

A criminal record affects the individual, his or her family and the larger community:

87 percent of employers conduct criminal background checks on some or all applicants, which can make it difficult for individuals with a record to obtain jobs. A criminal record reduces the likelihood of receiving a job offer by nearly 50 percent. Because of a criminal record, 180,000 women are subject to a lifetime ban on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits. The U.S. economy loses about $82 billion in annual GDP when people with records are under-employed.

Criminal records have greater impacts on people and communities of color.

To modify the impact a criminal conviction can bring, 48 states and the District of Columbia have some type of record clearance policy for felony and misdemeanor convictions. A number of counties are setting up clinics, summits or other events to support community members who are facing collateral consequences such as lack of access to jobs, schools and public assistance as a result of prior convictions.

The Hamilton County, Ohio, Fresh Start Clinic

The Hamilton County Fresh Start Expungement Clinic (Fresh Start) operates out of the county’s Public Defender Office. Fresh Start began in October 2013 to provide county residents with assistance in sealing or expunging their criminal or juvenile records.

Fresh Start is publicized at local events, through flyers and posters in the courthouse, and with specialized business cards available from public defender staff.

“Before I became head of the Hamilton County Public Defender’s Office in 2012, nobody in the office was filing expungement applications,” said Hamilton County Public Defender Raymond A. Faller. “This wasn’t right. We started the Fresh Start Expungement Clinic in 2013 to provide this service to our clients. Many wonder why we bother but many more understand and are supportive. Our clinic helps people move on with their lives, get jobs, pay taxes and become productive citizens again.”

Since the inception of Fresh Start, Hamilton County Public Defender employees have helped nearly 4,000 members of their community to clear their criminal records.

Approximately 1,900 individuals who came to the clinic between October 2013 and February 2018 were eligible to have their records cleared and more than 5,800 cases were sealed, including dismissed charges. This number does not include additional Juvenile Court records that have been sealed or expunged for clients.

The Champaign County, Ill., Expungement and Record Sealing Summits

The Champaign County Circuit Clerk’s Office hosts an annual Expungement and Record Sealing Summit in partnership with the Sheriff’s Office, county IT department, churches, local transit, the courts and state and local policymakers.

The one-day summit is held on a Saturday in the fall and is designed to provide free legal assistance to those who wish to clear their criminal records. Participants meet with volunteer attorneys who review their criminal history, advise them on what remedies they may apply for and help prepare petitions. Qualified petitions can be filed on site at no cost to the client.

The summit is promoted to community members over social media and radio ads. The first summit was held in October 2016 and was staffed by 75 volunteer attorneys and students from the local law school who were trained to file petitions. More than 500 people showed up to file petitions to have their records expunged.

Many of these individuals were seeking expungement of more than one criminal record. Of the 624 petitions filed for sealing or expungement at that summit, nearly three-quarters (451) were granted.

About half of those that were denied were due to outstanding court fines and fees. Acknowledging this barrier, the clerk of the court held a one-time Amnesty Week in October 2017 for people with outstanding criminal or traffic fines and fees. During Amnesty Week, all collection and late fees were waived if a person paid off their entire case. In some cases, this saved individuals up to 30 percent of what they owed to the courts.

In the first two years of the summit, more than 1,400 petitions were filed. Summit participants reported that their greatest reason for seeking to clear their criminal record was to find emplyment.

“The Expungement and Record Sealing Summit is an opportunity for county government to go beyond services we are required to provide and to look for ways we can be proactive: demystifying the very complicated legal process of record clearance and the removal of any financial barriers to participation,” said Katie M. Blakeman, clerk of the Circuit Court. “This event is the most rewarding work I get to do all year, in that it is one of the few opportunities we have to directly impact the lives of Champaign County residents.

“The collaboration and enthusiastic support of so many local government organizations and social service agencies is truly unique, and Champaign County should be proud of coming together to help our neighbors find a second chance.”

Nevadans with Misdemeanor Pot Convictions Want Records Expunged

Las Vegas Review-Journal

By Colton Lochhead

Nevadans with past misdemeanor pot convictions can have their records sealed away, but the Clark County district attorney isn’t ready to wave a magic wand to make it happen.

“I’m not going to take an active role in seeking the vacation or seeking the dismissals,” Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson said in a recent interview.

That’s a different approach than several other jurisdictions have been taking.

Since January, a cascade of cities and counties up and down the West Coast, including San Francisco, San Diego and Seattle, have announced plans to erase or reduce nonviolent marijuana convictions.

The argument for such moves is that in states that have legalized recreational marijuana, people are still stuck with past pot convictions, hurting their employment and housing opportunities, for the same thing that now rakes in millions for businesses and states.

“The district attorney clearly has more than one option at his fingertips that would allow him to establish justice for these people,” said Myesha Braden, director of the Criminal Justice Project for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “It’s most unfortunate that he is not willing to do so.”

The Lawyers’ Committee this month sent out a call to action urging prosecutors in cannabis-legal states to expunge the records of people convicted on misdemeanor marijuana possession charges.

“Individuals with marijuana convictions, particularly for amounts that are now legal to carry, are carrying a tremendous burden when it comes to finding employment, finding housing,” Braden said. “They are paying a cost that they will continue to pay as long as that conviction is on their record.”

Wolfson said he came to his decision on the issue after researching what communities such as Seattle and San Francisco did, speaking to people within his office and reviewing recent changes to Nevada laws regarding record sealing.

Two laws passed in last year’s Legislature that shortened the amount of time someone convicted of a misdemeanor must wait before being able to ask the court to seal their record, reducing that timeframe to just one year after the sentence is completed.

“What I’ve found and experienced is that the single most important reason people want their cases sealed is employment,” Wolfson said. “Now our Legislature has made it much easier and quicker to have records seal.”

“If someone files such a petition or motion, we will review those on a case by case basis,” Wolfson added, noting that his office routinely handles such requests on varying types of cases.

State’s take

The lawyers for the Nevada Legislature say that district attorneys in Nevada don’t have the authority to do what Holmes and other prosecutors have done, however.

State Sen. Tick Segerblom asked the Legislative Counsel Bureau last month if prosecutors in Nevada had the ability to mass-petition courts on behalf of convicted Nevadans in order to vacate or seal those old marijuana convictions.

The answer?

No.

“They looked into the issue and found that, while Nevada’s and California’s laws are somewhat similar in that both allow a person to request a court to seal their past criminal records relating to marijuana crimes, nothing in Nevada’s laws would authorize a district attorney to seal those records on their own,” Segerblom told the Review-Journal.

Part of the reasoning was Gov. Brian Sandoval’s vetoing of Assembly Bill 259 from the 2017 Legislature.

That proposal, sponsored by Assemblyman William McCurdy, D-Las Vegas, would have allowed people with convictions for possessing less than an ounce of marijuana — the limit that is now legal to possess — to ask Nevada courts to clear and seal those records.

The bill passed on party lines, with every Republican in both chambers voting against it. Sandoval vetoed the bill, but said in doing so that there “is much to commend” in the proposal.

“Individuals with prior convictions for possession of marijuana in amounts now legal in Nevada should be able to get their criminal records cleared expeditiously,” Sandoval wrote.

But Sandoval argued that the overall bill was too broad, noting that it made other changes to state laws dealing with record-sealing and minimum prison sentences.

The governor noted that the Legislature had already passed laws reducing the amount of time that must pass to seal records, and that Nevadans looking to clear marijuana convictions could use that process — a view that seems to line up with Wolfson’s.

“To the extent that there are individuals suffering under criminal records for conduct now legal in Nevada, those cases are best handled on a case-by-case basis,” Sandoval added.

McCurdy’s bill still has a chance to become law in 2019, because it was one of 15 bills vetoed after the session ended that has the chance to return in next year’s Legislature.

Contact Colton Lochhead at clochhead@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4638. Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter.

Felon Forgiveness

Louisville Magazine

By Eric Matthews

On a slushy Saturday morning in mid-February, hundreds of Louisvillians stand outside Roosevelt Perry Elementary School on West Broadway, the line wrapping around the building and snaking into the parking lot. They bundle themselves against the cold.

They’re all here for the pilot clinic of the Reily Reentry Project, a program through the Louisville Urban League designed to help people expunge their criminal records. It’s named for Urban League board member and Speed Art Museum director Stephen Reily, who donated $300,000 to fund the program for three years. The program covers most, if not all, expungement costs; participants are then required to enroll in an Urban League program, on topics such as health or housing. Reily became interested in the issue while walking the Highlands, campaigning for his ultimately unsuccessful 2016 Metro Council run. He says he met would-be constituents who were invested in the race but couldn’t vote due to felony charges from years or decades ago. Reily was shocked upon realizing the lingering effects criminal records have on the city’s workforce, neighborhoods and families. “Louisville can’t succeed unless everyone can,” Reily says. “Our city’s deepest internal problems result from a history of legalized segregation that has concentrated poverty in certain specific neighborhoods. And in those neighborhoods, too many people are denied access to good-paying jobs, or even the right to rent an apartment or buy a home, because they have a criminal record — even long after they have served their time and paid their debt to society.”

A door that had been shut to former felons cracked open in July 2016 with the passage of Kentucky House Bill 40, making those who had committed a Class D felony — more than 50 offenses, from possession of a controlled substance to third-degree burglary to sports bribery — eligible to have their records expunged five years after completing their sentence or parole. Applicants must obtain a certificate of expungement for $40 before paying the $500 to file for the expungement itself. Reily says these financial requirements put the opportunity out of reach for those who need it most. His project aims to combat this issue with 40 attorneys from the local firm Wyatt, Tarrant & Combs, who have volunteered their services to help participants through the expungement process.

At Roosevelt Perry, the attorneys face their clients across student desks that line the halls and fill the library, walking applicants through the paperwork necessary to start a process that can take months to complete.

Among those helped at the clinic is G.V. Searcy, who exits the glass double doors of the school feeling like a new man. He spent about four hours waiting for his turn in front of an attorney. “You just feel lighter, like a weight is off your shoulders,” Searcy says.

The clinic is intended to run from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. but is forced to close early because it reaches capacity after admitting about 500 people. At about 11 a.m., organizers tell those still waiting outside that they can stay, with no guarantee of getting to see an attorney. Some have been waiting since 8 a.m., including 66-year-old Barbara Petty. She says she was arrested on charges that were later dismissed but that the mark on her record still hangs over her head. She must now wait until a future clinic to begin the expungement process. “It’s been hard to find a job, to find good housing,” she says.

Louisville Urban League president and CEO Sadiqa Reynolds, who is on-hand to assist with the clinic, says that turning folks away is hard to do. The overwhelming turnout has Reily and Reynolds discussing the possibility of expanding the funding. Ultimately, the Urban League hopes the data from the clinic will persuade the state legislature to make expungements more accessible. “The funding is for $100,000 a year, and we’re going to do it until the money is gone,” Reynolds says.

Around lunchtime, Reily steps out and returns with 75 pizzas to feed the crowd. He mentions that hundreds of people are getting a second chance today — and that there are so many more to help. “When hundreds — maybe thousands — gain access to good-paying jobs, they can start to lift their families, their households and their neighborhoods out of poverty,” Reily says. “This may be the best way to start breaking the cycles of concentrated poverty that have trapped too many families and neighborhoods in Louisville for decades.”

This originally appeared in the March 2018 issue of Louisville Magazine. Every story in our March issue is about west Louisville, and we’ve barely scratched the surface. Click here to read more from part four of our series on the West End.

Clinic Will Help Expunge Those with Certain Criminal Records in Shawnee Co.

Topeka, Kansas (WIBW)

By Natalie Dattilio

A clinic in April will provide a second chance to those arrested or convicted on certain crimes, for a price.

Shawnee Co. Courts Administrator Charles Hydovitz told County Commissioners Thursday morning about “Expungement Day.” On April 20th, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Ag Hall, the Topeka Bar Association will offer people with certain qualifying criminal arrests, convictions and diversions the chance to get those expunged.

“They could have DUI’s, some misdemeanors, some felonies, but it all depends on what those actual charges were, and the disposition and the length from the final disposition,” Hydovytz said. “So, if it’s something that happened at the end of last year, the chances are they’re not going to qualify. However, it’s all on a case by case basis.”

The process will cost $195 per conviction and it’s only for adults with Shawnee Co. District Court convictions. Hydovytz says each case will have a follow-up hearing in June.

California Could Make It Easier to Erase Your Old Marijuana Convictions

The Sacramento Bee

By Alexei Koseff

When California voters legalized recreational weed in 2016, they made the law retroactive, allowing residents to petition to overturn or reduce old convictions for possession, cultivation and distribution of marijuana.

But it is a difficult and expensive legal procedure, advocates say, and many people are not even aware they are now eligible to clean up their records. State courts received 4,885 petitions in the first 11 months after Proposition 64 passed, while the pro-legalization Drug Policy Alliance found more than 460,000 arrests for marijuana offenses between 2006 and 2015 alone.

Assemblyman Rob Bonta is hoping to simplify the process. The Alameda Democrat’s Assembly Bill 1793 would require courts to automatically expunge the records of Californians convicted of offenses that are now legal under Proposition 64, such as possessing up to an ounce of weed and growing up to six plants for personal use, and to resentence those individuals whose crimes, such as selling marijuana, were reduced from felonies to misdemeanors.

“We’re just saying, ‘Move it along. Get it done,’ ” he said.

The legacy of racially unequal enforcement also motivated the measure. California police arrested black people for marijuana offenses at more than twice the rate of Latinos in 2015, according to the Drug Policy Alliance, and more than triple the rate of white people.

Bonta said his bill could provide a fresh start, including better employment and housing opportunities, to those who may not have the resources to petition in court: “It tries to create some justice where there was such injustice in the failed War on Drugs.”

AB 1793 faces high hurdles; it requires a two-thirds vote, and could face heavy opposition from the same law enforcement groups that campaigned against Proposition 64. Associations representing police chiefs and district attorneys said they have not yet taken a position on the bill.

As it moves it way through the Legislature this session, however, momentum may be building in local communities. San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón announced this week that his office plans to wipe more than 3,000 misdemeanor marijuana convictions dating back to 1975, and will review nearly 5,000 more felony cases for possible resentencing.

Michigan Set-Asides Found to Increase Wages and Reduce Recidivism

Collateral Consequences Resource Center

By CCRC Staff

Preliminary results of an empirical study by two University of Michigan law professors show that setting aside an individual’s record of conviction is associated with “a significant increase in employment and average wages,” and with a low recidivism rate.  We know of only one other similar study, conducted by researchers at the University of California at Berkeley, and it came to essentially the same conclusion.  One relevant difference between the two studies is that in Michigan set-aside results in sealing of the record, while in California it does not.  Such studies are rare because of the difficulty of obtaining data, particularly where relief seals the record, but they are a very important way of advancing a reform agenda.  Thus, Professors Sonja Starr and J.J. Prescott propose that their research “provides important empirical guidance to the broader social policy debates associated with set-aside laws and accessibility of criminal records.”  In the hope that their work will encourage others to undertake similar research, we reprint the entire report below.

Project Outcomes Report: Award No. 1023727

Project Title: Evaluating the Impact of Criminal Record Set-Aside Laws on Recidivism and Socioeconomic Outcomes

Co-PIs: Sonja Starr and J.J. Prescott

Tens of millions of Americans have criminal records, which often carry collateral socioeconomic and legal consequences long after the criminal sentence is completed. To provide relief from these consequences, some states offer procedures by which certain offenders can have their records sealed or “set aside.” In Michigan, during the period of this study, set-asides were available only to offenders with a single criminal conviction, who may apply for them beginning five years after sentencing or release from incarceration. A set-aside removes the record from public view and from background-check databases, eliminates any applicable state occupational restrictions, and legally entitles the recipient to represent herself as having no record in employment proceedings. Accordingly, one might expect that recipients’ employment prospects would be improved. However, it is not obvious that one should expect this effect to be substantial, because people with records often face other employment hurdles and because the employment effects of the type of limited and older records for which set-asides are given are not known. No prior empirical study has quantified the effect of set-asides on employment, and in this study, we sought to do so.

A principal challenge in studying set-asides is that such records, after the fact, are by definition no longer publicly available. However, pursuant to deidentification conditions, we obtained set-aside records from the Michigan State Police and linked wage information on the same individuals from Michigan’s unemployment insurance system. This enabled us to track approximately 4,000 set-aside recipients’ wages and employment status on a quarterly basis for periods of at least three years before and after the set-aside was received. Having received our data later than intended, we continue to complete final analyses and prepare papers for submission for publication; the remaining work entails comparisons between set-aside recipients and comparable non-recipients, for whom we also obtained similar data. Here, we summarize the results of preliminary analyses focused on set-aside recipients alone, before and after receipt of the set-aside. Our analyses are based on regressions that account for pre-set-aside trends for these individuals, as well as for changes and fluctuations in the economy.

We find that receipt of a set-aside is associated with a significant increase in employment and average wages. Most of the gain is observed in the first year after set-aside receipt, during which recipients’ probability of employment rises steadily by a total of about 6.5 percentage points (from about 58.6% to about 65.1%–that is, recipients became about 1.11 times as likely to be employed). Over the same one-year period, recipients’ average quarterly wages rose by about 22%. This increase is too large to be fully attributed to the gain in employment probability—the implication is that set-aside recipients are often able to find higher-paying jobs, in addition to increasing their chances of finding work in the first place.

These trend-change estimates are obtained after filtering out preexisting trends, which are negative for most of the two years before the set-aside and flat in the six months immediately before the set-aside. That is, applicants are somewhat more likely to apply for set-asides after a period of unemployment. It is possible that some of the upturn in employment and wage trends for set-aside recipients could be accounted for not by the set-aside itself, but by mean reversion or by motivated job-hunting (that is, applicants might tend to seek set-asides at a time when they are especially motivated to find work, or to find higher-paying work). Our ongoing analyses seek to disentangle these competing explanations.

Wage and employment gains were similar across racial groups, but were much larger among females (whose wages rose 41% within a year after receiving a set-aside, compared to 15% for males). Females represented 47% of set-aside recipients. About 58% of recipients were white and about 37% were black, with the balance from other groups or unidentified. Approximately 71% had not faced incarceration for their convictions, and only 1% had been incarcerated for more than a year. Approximately 39% of the set-aside convictions were felonies.

Finally, because we had access to applicants’ full criminal records, we also assessed their recidivism probability. Fewer than 4% of set-aside recipients were rearrested within five years of the set-aside, and fewer than 2% were reconvicted. These are extremely low rates; we note for comparison purposes that in a five-year period, Michigan police make about 13 arrests per 100 people in the general population.

In addition to contributing to researchers’ understanding of the employment effects of having a criminal record, this research provides important empirical guidance to the broader social policy debates associated with set-aside laws and accessibility of criminal records. It provides a clearer picture of who set-aside laws affect and what the stakes are, in terms of benefits for recipients and public safety concerns. Moreover, the development of a procedure within Michigan state agencies to match deidentified criminal record and unemployment insurance data could help to benefit future researchers who wish to investigate relationships between socioeconomic variables and criminal offending.

New Rio Grande Outreach Aims to Help People Clear Their Criminal Records

The Salt Lake Tribune

By Bill Dentzer

So you got arrested years ago, paid the penalty, did your time. Since then, you’ve cleaned up, and now you’re trying to stay on the straight and narrow. But your criminal record follows you when you apply for work, and holding down a job is critical to your success.

Sure, you can get your Utah record cleared if you meet the requirements, but that costs money you just don’t have.

For those in that predicament, another effort arising out of the Operation Rio Grande initiative is coming to help.

Salt Lake County is teaming with the state Departments of Workforce Services and Public Safety, Catholic Community Services of Utah, and a group of volunteer lawyers to help eligible candidates clean up, or expunge, their criminal records. The agencies and volunteers will cover mandatory state fees and provide legal assistance on a special “Expungement Day” event April 5, and they’re reaching out now to sign people up.

“The expungement process can be complicated to navigate. It can also be really costly,” said Noella Sudbury, coordinator of the county’s Criminal Justice Advisory Council. “Having a criminal record, even if it’s old, is often a big barrier to people trying to get back on their feet.”

Expungements are handled by the state. Applying costs $50. The state Bureau of Criminal Identification gets up to 400 applications a month and, given the volume, says it can take up to six months to review them.

If the state approves the application and a judge orders the conviction cleared, state law allows applicants to treat the expunged offense as if it never happened. Each cleared conviction costs $56. Applicants don’t need a lawyer, but a mistake in the process can mean a lengthy setback. And enlisting an attorney to help can cost up to $1,000.

There are mandatory waiting periods to apply for expungement: seven years for a felony; three to five years for a misdemeanor or infraction, depending on severity; and 10 years for a misdemeanor DUI and certain categories of felony drug-related crime. All fines, fees and restitution must be paid.

There are also convictions that can’t be expunged and conditions that make someone ineligible, including violent felonies, sex crimes, or multiple felony or misdemeanor convictions arising from separate criminal incidents.

Starting small, not limited

Operation Rio Grande, beyond targeting crime in and around downtown Salt Lake City’s homeless population, also sought to help people caught up in cycles of homelessness, addiction or petty crime. The Expungement Day event grew out of conversations around that outreach. Initially, the effort is focused on people involved in the “Dignity of Work” program begun in November.

Though it’s not limited to that group, the program will start small. Application costs and fees are being covered by private donations. Flyers advertising the event are being posted in shelters and other outreach facilities. Participants will get help determining if they’re eligible, preparing their applications, and filling out other paperwork.

Those interested can sign up by calling the county Criminal Justice Advisory Council at 385-468-7095. The event is slated to be held in the St. Vincent de Paul dining hall at the Weigand Homeless Resource Center, 437 W. 200 South.

“We want to allow anyone who is currently struggling with this in the county to give us a call,” Sudbury said.

Expungement Day is April 5. Weigand Homeless Resource Center, 437 W. 200 South. Call 385-468-7095 to sign up.

As for legal help, a team of lawyers — as many as 30 — will be on hand the day of the event to provide free services. Expungement is not a particularly complicated legal process. But participating lawyers will get some training ahead of time, said Salt Lake City attorney Greg Skordas, who volunteered for the event.

Nebraska Human Trafficking Bill Seeks to Help Survivors

Norfolk Daily News

LINCOLN (AP) — Sex trafficking victims with a prostitution conviction could clear their criminal record under a bill Nebraska lawmakers will consider this year, the latest step in a larger effort to protect people who were coerced into prostitution.

The bill would allow human trafficking survivors to ask a judge to set aside their conviction and seal their criminal record for offenses they committed while under a trafficker’s influence.

The measure is part of a push to focus less on punishing trafficking survivors and more on targeting traffickers and sex purchasers, said Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln, who sponsored the legislation.

Lawmakers have taken a more aggressive approach to human trafficking in the last five years, passing laws to increase penalties for traffickers and buyers, allow former victims to sue their traffickers and provide legal immunity to trafficking victims who are caught working as prostitutes.

Pansing Brooks said traffickers exert tremendous control over their victims, often taking their money and identification.

The victims, usually women and girls, are frequently kept in prostitution through threats, violence and drug addiction. They’re often forced to commit other crimes as well, such as burglary or selling drugs, Pansing Brooks said.

“It’s two people with power — the trafficker and the purchaser — exerting influence over some very vulnerable people,” she said. Victims “are under total control of someone who forces them to commit these bad acts.”

Under the bill, survivors would have to prove they were trafficked using phone records, online ads, sworn testimony or other evidence to prevent people from abusing the system.

Trafficking survivors with a criminal conviction tend to struggle to find housing and a job that gives them economic security, said Meghan Malik, who works on human trafficking issues through the nonprofit Women’s Fund of Omaha. Without that support, she said, trafficking victims frequently fall back into prostitution.

“Often times, they feel the deck is stacked against them,” she said. “It becomes a cyclical pattern. These kinds of convictions can prevent a trafficking victim from creating a new life.”

Malik said 34 other states already have laws to clear a trafficking victim’s record.

Traffickers generally operate along Interstate 80 and in larger cities, although Malik said their reach extends statewide. In a report last year, the Women’s Fund identified major hotspots in Omaha, Lincoln, Grand Island, North Platte, Scottsbluff and surrounding communities.

Much of the activity in Grand Island takes place around its numerous truck stops, said Sen. Dan Quick, whose district includes the city. Quick designated the record-clearing legislation as his “priority bill” for the year, increasing the odds that lawmakers debate it before their session ends.

“We need to help them as much as we can, help them turn their lives around,” he said. “I don’t want that to happen to anyone’s children.”

Douglas County Sheriff Tim Dunning said the Legislature’s recent focus on trafficking victims could encourage some to work with law enforcement and seek treatment by easing their fears of prosecution. The vast majority suffer from drug and alcohol problems, he said.

Dunning said his agency and others have been working with motels to spot signs of human trafficking, and conduct regular sting operations to catch buyers.

Karen Bowling, executive director of the Nebraska Family Alliance, said her group started advocating for such laws after she met a woman 10 years ago who had been cited on prostitution and drug charges. Bowling said the woman had been under the influence of a trafficker and was addicted to drugs, and resorted to prostitution later in life to survive.

“There’s absolutely the potential that this could have helped,” Bowling said. “You’re talking about a woman who got pulled into it out of desperation. Once she got ticketed, it really did follow her.”

Bill Proposes Sealing Records of Some Marijuana Possession Charges

KTUU

By Beth Verge

ANCHORAGE (KTUU) – House Bill 316, introduced in Juneau Wednesday by Democratic Rep. Harriet Drummond of Anchorage, seeks to seal public records related to certain marijuana charges.

“This piece of the law was overlooked by the drafters of the initiative,” Rep. Drummond said Thursday. “And it’s been included in voter initiatives and laws that have passed in other states.”

The bill states, in part, that “A person convicted in this state before February 24, 2015, of possession of a schedule VIA controlled substance for conduct that does not require a license and would otherwise be legal if committed on or after February 24, 2015, may submit a written request … asking the agency to seal that information about the person.”

HB 316 also says agencies shall grant those requests if the conviction wouldn’t require a license and would otherwise be legal if committed on or after Feb. 24, 2015, the date marijuana possession became legal in Alaska.

“This is really a cleanup of the marijuana voter initiative,” Drummond said.

Supporters of the bill have said it will help make it easier for people to overcome the black marks on their records and remove extra roadblocks catalyzed by the charges when it comes to getting a job or finding housing.

“I think we need to move more toward normalization with cannabis in society,” said Cary Carrigan of the Alaska Marijuana Industry Association. “I don’t think people need to have this kind of stigma follow them around for small mistakes.”

But not everyone is for the bill: In other states where similar laws have been proposed, top officials have decried attempts at wiping past marijuana convictions.

“It creates a horrible precedent by retrofitting criminal sanctions for past conduct every time a new law is changed or passed,” Carolyn Tyler, a spokeswoman for the State of Colorado Attorney General’s office, said in an e-mail to The Denver Post in 2014.

Other states have also blocked comparable bills, with opponents fearing it would force judges to let those who break the law off the hook.

Proponents in Alaska, though, don’t see it that way.

“People really need to have a way, when something is not illegal that they’ve been punished for and done their time,” Carrigan said, “they need to have a way to get that to be behind them.”

House Bill 316 also calls for the Alaska CourtView system to be wiped clean of the marijuana misdemeanors. The primary reason being, according to Drummond’s press release, “to protect the ability for Alaskans to go to work despite past convictions for marijuana possession.”

“We need to have this conversation,” Drummond said. “I would hope the Legislature would see fit to pass this and make sure everybody’s constituents are cleared to make a living.”

Communities in the United States, such as San Francisco, are allowing people whose past crimes would now not be penalized in the same way to petition convictions. This is also in order to have them overturned or reduced from felony to misdemeanor levels and comes after the passing of laws similar to the one proposed, though HB 316 would not be as severe.

‘We Are All Criminals’ Aims to Foster Empathy and Encourage Second Chances for People with Criminal Records

Minn Post

By Ibrahim Hirsi

Emily Baxter has spent years challenging the “once a criminal, always a criminal” perception that many people in positions of authority have of people with criminal records.

Now, she has a new book, “We Are All Criminals,” that examines mass incarceration in the U.S., what it means to have a criminal record and how race plays a role in the system.

The book also tells the stories of hundreds of Americans, including doctors, lawyers, cops and legislators, who relate their stories of crime and how some of them got away with it — while others have paid the price.

Through those stories, written in first-person narratives, Baxter is trying to demonstrate that nearly every American has a criminal history, but only those with criminal records carry the burden.

To put that in numbers, 1 in 4 people in the U.S. has a criminal record; 4 in 4 have a criminal history. “What about the other 75 percent?” Baxter asks in the book. “Those of us who have committed crimes, but not been caught; those of us with criminal histories but not a criminal record.”

The author especially wants policymakers, employers, landlords and school administrators to pay attention to one important aspect in the book: that people who are in positions of authority should consider re-examining policies that have long excluded individuals with criminal records.

 “What this project does is ask [people] to consider their own criminality and the second chances that they’ve received in life,” Baxter said in an interview. “Basically, to recognize the humanity behind the person with the record.”

Giving a second chance

The number of individuals with criminal records in the U.S. is strikingly high, especially among communities of color. Baxter states in the book that 1 in 3 black men will go to jail in their lifetime, compared to 1 in 17 white men.

In many cases, people are imprisoned for crimes committed before their brains were fully developed. But the consequences of those convictions are almost always permanent.

That’s why many people who served time aren’t able to secure jobs or rent apartments in Minnesota and across the nation. “Their criminal histories tether them for their past,” Baxter, who now lives in North Carolina, writes in the book.

In a phone interview last week, Baxter spoke of her experiences with ex-offenders she served as a lawyer some years back. She said most of her former clients were people of color and indigenous people, who were never given “the opportunity to come up for air” after release.

“That’s not who I am,” she added. “I’m white; I’m middle class; and I think that has a lot to do with my ability to have left my teens and 20s without carrying a felony record.”

For a decade now, Baxter has been working with employers and policymakers to help create opportunities that would provide people with criminals record a chance to rebuild their lives.

One of the successful efforts that Baxter was involved is the Ban the Box legislation, which passed in 2013, barring employers from asking ex-offenders about their criminal record during job interviews.

Starting ‘We Are All Criminals’

But several years ago, Baxter was doing something different. One day, as she sat in a windowless room inside an expungement clinic in downtown Minneapolis, a man walked in and handed her a copy of his criminal record.

At the time she was a lawyer for the Council on Crime and Justice, and her job included finding options for ex-offenders to seal old criminal records — to help remove barriers that would prevent them from getting hired.

So she opened the copy and found out that her client, who was seeking an expungement, had theft on his record. “I thought it shouldn’t be something that would disrupt his life,” Baxter said. “But he quickly set me straight. I was right, it shouldn’t disrupt his life, but it had affected him in a deeply professional and personal way.”

It was then that Baxter started to reflect upon her own criminal history and the many occasions she’d “broken laws similar” to the clients she had served. The only difference was that her clients were caught in the act. She wasn’t.

This inspired her to create the Twin Cities-based We Are All Criminals (WAAC), a project Baxter founded during her 2011 Bush Foundation Fellowship to foster opportunities for people with criminal records.

Through WAAC, Baxter has interviewed hundreds of people about their criminal histories. They included doctors, lawyers, policymakers, law enforcement officials, professors and pastors, who talked about drugs they’ve sold or consumed; homes they’ve broken into; and cars they’ve driven drunk.

“What has been so encouraging to me is that people are willing to come forward and share these stories because they want to contribute to change,” Baxter said. “They want an opportunity to talk about their privilege.”

In 2013, WAAC became a nonprofit organization, through which Baxter shared the stories of the people she interviewed by posting them on the internet and creating traveling exhibit. The exhibit has visited universities, law firms and cafes throughout the state.

The message is mostly for employers, landlords, school administrators, prosecutors, law enforcement agencies and “anybody that needs to hear” about the organization, Baxter said. “So presentations are one vehicle for this conversation,” she added.

Another platform WAAC uses is its website, which houses stories of people Baxter interviewed about their criminal histories.

WAAC expansion

In October, Baxter released the 279-page “We Are All Criminals” book, which is meant to complement the WAAC project’s online presence, traveling exhibits and presentations.

Meanwhile, WAAC has expanded its reach beyond Minnesota. Baxter has so far presented about the American criminal justice system and second chances in North Carolina, New Mexico, California and Connecticut.

In the spring, she’s scheduled to travel to Canada and Scotland to talk about WAAC.

Many countries, she said, that have adopted the U.S. criminal justice system are now realizing the need to change policies that prevent employers from hiring individuals with criminal records.

That has also been the case for some employers in Minnesota. Baxter noted that when she first started reaching out to employers about considering people with criminal records for openings, they used to quickly dismiss the idea.

These days, however, such attitudes are starting to slowly change. “Now in 2018, I have chambers of commerce reaching out to me to provide training to employers,” Baxter said. “That’s such a mass change.”

States Featuring Bipartisan Support Rally for Criminal Justice Reform

ABA Journal 

By Lorelei Laird

When Lisa Graybill organized a rally for criminal justice reform at the Louisiana Capitol in April, she was expecting maybe 300 people. Twice that many showed up.

“I haven’t seen anything like that, and I’ve been doing civil rights advocacy for almost 20 years now,” says Graybill, who helped organize the day as part of a coalition called Louisianans for Prison Alternatives, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center. “We ran out of T-shirts. … We weren’t entirely prepared for the volume or the energy.”

A lot of that support, Graybill believes, came from people who have personal experience with Louisiana’s prison policies. As of 2015, Louisiana—a state that went to the Republicans in the last five presidential elections—had the dubious distinction of incarcerating more people than not only any other state (according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics) but also any nation (according to the UK’s Institute for Criminal Policy Research). More than other Americans, Louisianans are personally affected by imprisonment, or they know someone who is.

“The upside, if you can call it that, to being the world’s leading incarceration state is that you’ve got a whole lot of pissed-off people,” says Will Harrell, former Southern regional director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Campaign for Smart Justice. “It’s hard to find someone in Louisiana not either directly or closely indirectly impacted by the carceral policies of that state.”

Putting that many people in prison is also expensive. In 2015, Louisiana had a $1.6 billion budget gap—so much that the state government wasn’t sure it could afford its 2016 presidential primary election. The same year, the corrections budget was $622 million, nearly $200M more than similarly populated Alabama and South Carolina. And all that spending wasn’t lowering crime; FBI statistics say Louisiana had the nation’s highest murder rate in 2015.

So when Democrat John Bel Edwards won the governor’s office, he promised he’d make criminal justice reform a centerpiece of his term—and won support from the majority-Republican state legislature. In June, Edwards signed a package of 10 bills that is expected to reduce the prison population by 10 percent, and the parole and probation population by 12 percent over 10 years. The state estimates the bills will save $252 million, about 70 percent of which will be plowed back into programs designed to prevent crime. In this way, the state hopes to promote public safety, save money and give former offenders a chance to be full members of society.

Around that same time, the federal government signaled a reversal of Obama-era criminal justice reform; President Donald J. Trump told an assembly of police officers: “Please, don’t be too nice” when transporting suspects; and Attorney General Jeff Sessions increased prosecutors’ use of mandatory minimums (See “Jeff’s Law,” October). Meanwhile, states have gone, often with great enthusiasm, in the opposite direction. Adam Gelb, director of the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Public Safety Performance Project, says 36 states have enacted some kind of criminal justice reform—eight of them more than once—over the past 10 years.

And although those reforms can be a struggle to get through legislatures, they tend to win approval—even in “red” states such as Louisiana—because they have bipartisan support. They bring together legislators with diverse backgrounds and interests, including controlling crime, reducing corrections costs, embracing religious ideas about redemption, reducing the size of government, grappling with the effect of imprisonment on families and minority communities, and questioning the morality of locking up so many people.

“The reason that it is so bipartisan and cross branch is that it meets many objectives,” says Alison Lawrence, Criminal Justice Program director for the National Conference of State Legislatures. “I would say behind all of it, everybody cares about public safety, and that’s the underlying factor.”

FOLLOW THE LONE STAR

Louisiana is part of a nationwide movement toward justice reinvestment—policies aimed at simultaneously reducing crime and reining in corrections spending, while still holding offenders accountable. Gelb calls those goals “our holy trinity.”

“The real goal is to improve the performance of the corrections system or to achieve a better public safety return on corrections spending,” he says.

According to the Urban Institute, which studies the outcomes of justice reinvestment, achieving a better return can be met in several ways. Reducing sentences, in a thoughtful and politically palatable way, is one component. But so are reducing the number of people held in lieu of bail and the time they’re held, expanding eligibility for parole and other ways to be released from prison, and providing alternatives to prison for probation and parole violations.

By reducing the number of prisoners, states save money—often hundreds of millions of dollars. Then, states “reinvest” some of that money in programs they believe will reduce crime, and therefore the need for prisons. That includes prison-based re-entry or job training programs, more probation and parole officers, and grants to community groups that help with re-entry-related problems like mental health and substance abuse. States may also lift the legal restrictions they place on former offenders, such as eligibility for professional licenses.

States are receptive, Gelb says, in part because they’ve seen the success of earlier adopters—especially Texas, which is the widely acknowledged godfather of justice reinvestment. In 2007, the Texas Department of Public Safety, which handles corrections, anticipated that it would need 14,000 to 17,000 more prison beds over the next five years. So it asked the legislature for $2 billion. Legislators blanched at that cost and instead tried to make the new prison beds unnecessary by spending $241 million on behavioral health and alternative sanctions programs.

Ten years—and several more bills—later, Texas has actually closed several prisons. State authorities estimate that Texas has reduced its incarceration rate by 20 percent and its crime rate by 30 percent, all while avoiding $4 billion in costs. It’s also become a model for other states, particularly its Southern neighbors. Harrell, now director of the justice reform consultancy the Justice Collaborative, says they’re particularly impressed because Texas has a long-standing reputation for toughness on crime.

“When I walk into the state of Alabama legislature, or Mississippi, they could care less what’s happening in California or New York—or any blue state, for that matter. But I can make reference to Texas,” he says. “The sentiment is that ‘Well, if it’s OK in Texas, it can be OK here.’ ”

Although Texas is an outlier in some ways, other states have seen similar results. Pew’s research says South Carolina’s 2010 reforms dropped the state’s prison population by 14 percent as of 2016, allowing it to close six prisons and avoid building new ones. The prison closures and related efforts saved the state $491 million in that period. Meanwhile, its crime rate dropped 16 percent, which reformers believe is at least partly from reforms like rehabilitation programs and increased ability to work after a conviction.

The following year, 2011, North Carolina adopted reforms that dropped returns to prison by 14 percent over two years and probation revocations by 50 percent over four years, all while crime dropped 11 percent in two years. (Crime also dropped nationally in that period, Pew notes.) Georgia, which has enacted multiple rounds of reforms, changed its juvenile system in 2013 to reduce its emphasis on out-of-home placements. That nearly halved the number of kids committed to the state Department of Juvenile Justice.

That record is one reason states are receptive, Gelb says. Another is that there’s research showing that alternatives to incarceration can work—by, for example, limiting the legal consequences of conviction that can make it harder to find a job and drive defendants back to crime. That information wasn’t available in the 1980s and ’90s, when some of the toughest sentencing laws were passed.

There’s also more widespread conservative support for criminal justice reform than there was in those decades, Gelb says. Groups such as Right on Crime—and a major funder, prominent Republican donors the Koch brothers—have for several years been making the conservative case for justice reform, which they say promotes employment and intact families while saving public money. These days, conservatives are less likely to be attacked for supporting reform.

And then there’s money, which “you’d have to be naive to dismiss entirely,” Gelb says. “But our perception really is that budget issues get people to the table, but they’re not the meal.”

Read more…

 

New Law Gives People Chance to Start Fresh

The Chronicle

By the North Carolina Justice Center with additions by The Chronicle

Since Dec. 1, more North Carolinians are able to expunge certain criminal records that give rise to severe barriers to employment, housing, and other essential opportunities.

This kind of action has been advocated by some local judges, the Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce and others, such as the Ministers’ Conference of Winston-Salem and Vicinity.

On July 28, Gov. Roy Cooper signed into law Senate Bill 445, a bipartisan measure that allows most people to expunge all criminal charges that do not result in convictions and reduces how long a person must wait to expunge a first-time nonviolent misdemeanor or felony conviction. Specifically, Senate Bill 445:

*Reduces the wait period for expunction of a first-time nonviolent misdemeanor from 15 years to five years.

*Reduces the wait period for expunction of a first-time nonviolent felony from 15 years to 10 years.

*Provides for expunction of all charges that are dismissed or disposed “not guilty” as long the person has not been convicted of a felony offense.

*Makes several improvements to the expunction process, including standardizing the filing procedures across all jurisdictions and ensuring all relevant state agencies and petitioners receive and enforce expunction orders.

*Provides prosecutors access to most criminal records expunged under the new law.

In North Carolina, the expunction of a criminal record returns an individual to the status he or she held before the charge or conviction occurred. Once expunged, an individual may truthfully deny the charge or conviction ever occurred, in most circumstances.

There are exceptions, including for purposes of federal immigration. SB 445 does not expand expunction eligibility to include multiple convictions disposed in separate court sessions or change the types of convictions considered “nonviolent.”

“We are excited to celebrate these new laws for the positive impacts they will have in the lives of tens of thousands of individuals and families across our state,” said Daniel Bowes, attorney for the N.C. Justice Center’s Second Chance Initiative. “But our ultimate goal is for men and women with criminal records to have a fair chance at gainful employment, safe and affordable housing, school admission, and other essential opportunities without having to hide their criminal records.”

For more information on expunction eligibility and procedures, go to  http://www.ncjustice.org/.

Senate Criminal Reform Bill Addresses Juvenile Justice, Changing Age of Adulthood

Telegram 

BOSTON – Activists are applauding as a step in the right direction a package of juvenile justice provisions included in a comprehensive Massachusetts Senate proposal to reform the state’s criminal justice system, a sentiment not shared by a majority of the state’s district attorneys.

The proposal would raise the age of adulthood to 19, create close-age exceptions to statutory rape and indecent assault and battery offenses, decriminalize certain offenses for juveniles that aren’t criminal for adults and add more liberal provisions concerning juveniles’ ability to seal or expunge criminal records, among other provisions.

The Senate bill has advanced to the House, where Speaker Robert DeLeo has said he anticipates his chamber will take up its own plan within the next two weeks to enable a conference committee to begin work before the Legislature’s 2017 session ends on Nov. 15.

The Senate bill faced harsh criticism from nine of the 11 Massachusetts district attorneys in a six-page letter. Addressed to Senate President Stanley Rosenberg and Senate Judiciary Committee Chair William Brownsberger, the DAs opposed many of the proposals involving juveniles, including raising the age of criminal majority, decriminalizing sex between minors of similar age and an absolute parent/child privilege.

The DAs say they are “concerned with the size, density and breadth of the bill and the risk it creates for legislators and citizens to fully understand the true and practical application of its many details.”

Taking Sides on Timing of Sealing Criminal Records

Telegram

By 

BOSTON – When Fitchburg resident David Gonzalez left the prison system in 2000, he felt fortunate to find a job. He initially worked at a factory, transferring a year later to the Sisters of Mercy Convent. However, after working there for less than a year, the organization conducted a background check and fired him for his criminal record.

“After I left the convent, I relapsed (into drug use),” Gonzalez said. “I was very depressed and attempted suicide many times … I still have depression.”

Gonzalez said he juggled short-term jobs and collected disability for years. He finally found steady employment in 2017, when he was hired by the Latin American Health Alliance as a substance-abuse counselor. His new employer disregarded his criminal record, allowing Gonzalez to start over.

“I think people should be given the opportunity to start (fresh),” Gonzalez said. ”(Open criminal records) keep people in shackles.”

A comprehensive criminal justice reform proposal approved by the Massachusetts Senate would reduce the time frame for sealing these criminal records. Under the bill, felony records could be sealed after seven years instead of 10. Misdemeanors would be closed in three years instead of five.

Expungement Law Changes Expand Opportunities for Missourians with Certain Convictions

Hannibal Courier Post 

By Trevor McDonald

Beginning in January 2018, Missourians convicted of certain crimes could have an easier time expunging offenses from their records due to changes in state law.

Expungement laws have been in effect for years in Missouri, but changes will broaden which convictions can be expunged — a process where the offense is cleared from a person’s criminal record and is no longer visible to members of the public. Tenth Circuit Presiding Judge Rachel Bringer Shepherd said that the law’s expanded list of convictions and amended waiting time would offer more opportunities to certain people, along with giving much more weight to a victim’s decision in the matter. The revised law could also provide people with more potential opportunities for jobs and others regaining certain civil rights.

David Brown, an attorney with Wasinger Parham, L.C. in Hannibal, said the goal for expungement is “to place that person in the position that they were before they were convicted of whatever the offense was.” Depending on the severity of the conviction, there are various consequences. He said “collateral” results of some convictions — such as the right to possess a firearm — could be removed through the expungement process. Brown said a job seeker could mark “no” for an expunged charge when applying for several jobs — exceptions apply for careers including insurance and banking jobs and those which require a state license.

Brown said the new expungement law will include forms for people who wish to represent themselves in the expungement process, which must take place within the circuit court of the conviction. Clients can also appear with an attorney for the process. The current law sets up a surcharge of $100 for expungement; that fee will grow to $250 under the new law, and it will be waived for clients who face financial hardship.

Brown said Missouri’s laws are changing all the time, citing a 2017 law change that created a lower-level Class E misdemeanor for convictions involving possession of seven grams or less of marijuana. He anticipated an increase in expungement requests for those types of convictions, due to the stricter consequences that applied during past years. Brown said as the new law goes into effect, there will be consistent cooperation among defense attorneys, prosecuting attorneys and judges as the new law goes into effect.

Several convictions will still be ineligible for expungement, including Class A felonies, felonies that resulted in death, misdemeanor and felony domestic assault, violent felonies and assault or kidnapping. And each person seeking expungement must satisfy all of the conditions of their sentence first — including payment of fines, incarceration and probation or parole.

The revised state law will reduce the wait time for expungement of felonies from 20 years to 10 years; the timeline for expungement of misdemeanors will drop from seven years to three years. However, Shepherd said the file will be sealed and marked “expunged.”

Under current law, the file for an expunged conviction is to be destroyed by agencies with the records. She said court personnel always contact a victim to come forward if they wish, but the new law will give much more weight to the victim’s opinion in granting an expungement. Shepherd said that a person’s individual habits and conduct are considered during an expungement hearing, and she looks for signs that a person has changed and is contributing to the community. Brown said the new law will offer people in those positive situations more chances to move forward.

“This allows for people who have rehabilitated themselves and completed their sentences to move on in their lives, and hopefully put something that was probably a significant burden behind them,” Brown said.

Kevin Knickerbocker, district administrator for the community supervision center and District 3 Probation and Parole Office, said that staff members send out numerous requests for executive clemency to the governor’s office — a different way for people to clear their criminal record — but few of those requests are generally granted. He said that expungement through the courts and clemency through the state are separate processes, they both have the same end goal in mind.

“Ultimately, the best thing you can do for public safety is to help someone be successful in their life,” he said.

Reach reporter Trevor McDonald at trevor.mcdonald@courierpost.com

Five Years after Landmark Criminal Expungement Law Passed, Ohio Attorneys Remain Busy with Record Sealing Requests

Daily Legal News

By Tracey Blair

Five years ago, a new state law was passed that expanded opportunities for people to have criminal convictions expunged from their records.

Prior to Ohio Sen. Bill 337, which became effective on Sept. 28, 2012, those with more than one conviction and people convicted of nonsupport of a dependent were ineligible for record sealing.

Before the bill became law, only first offenders could have criminal convictions expunged. Senate Bill 337 allowed those with two unrelated misdemeanor convictions or a combination of one felony and one misdemeanor conviction to apply to have their convictions sealed.

Since then, Ohio attorneys have continued to see an influx of clients hoping to start over and rebuild their lives through expungement.

A vicious cycle

“When the law was changed to allow two convictions, it changed the way people are seeing those with a criminal record,” said Dawn Spriggs, supervising attorney at Community Legal Aid, a nonprofit law firm that serves the legal needs of low-income people in central and northeast Ohio.

“Having a ‘record’ can create issues with employment opportunities, custody, or even purchasing a home.”

According to a 2009 U.S. Department of Justice study, people with criminal convictions of any kind were 50 percent less likely to receive a job offer.

“The implications of that can be crushing,” said Spriggs. “It can keep people from turning their lives around and changing for the better. And what’s worse, it can impact future generations.”

Past-due child support is a common issue Community Legal Aid attorneys see for expungement requests.

“If a parent can’t get or hold a decent-paying job, how is he or she supposed to make child support payments? It’s a vicious cycle, and the child becomes the victim,” Spriggs said.

Akron Law clinics help ex-offenders

More than four years ago, volunteer attorneys and Akron Law students began a monthly outreach event to help low-income Akron residents who have criminal pasts get their records sealed.

Besides expungement assistance, those with criminal convictions can also apply for a Certificate of Qualification for Employment (CQE) during the Saturday events, which attract between 100 and 200 people per session.

The University of Akron School of Law’s Reentry Clinics prepare Akron Law students for a career in the public sector while assisting with expungement and other issues that often go hand in hand with criminal records.

“More than 4,000 people have come since June 2013 to our outreach clinic,” said Joann Sahl, an associate clinical professor of law who helps run the Reentry Clinics. “Since the expungement program began, we’ve sealed over 500 cases and done over 958 CQEs.”

Expungement clinic volunteers conduct background searches, develop relationships with clients and represent the client in court.

If a client doesn’t qualify for an expungement clinic, they may be eligible for a CQE. A CQE doesn’t seal a criminal record, but is a court-issued certificate that allows a prospective employer or professional licensing authority to employ or license an ex-offender who holds the certificate.

“I consider the CQE to be the most exciting piece of legislation,” said Sahl. “People with more than two convictions previously had no hope. Having a job is one of the key factors in not recidivating. The CQE says you’ve been rehabilitated and aren’t a risk to hire. An employer isn’t a risk for being sued.

“If you have a conviction that won’t allow you to apply for a job, the CQE opens the door and allows you to apply. There are definitely employers who are willing to look past a criminal record.”

Clients applying for a CQE fill out an online application stating why they are not a hiring risk. The application is sent to the Ohio Department of Corrections. The court seeks input from the prosecutor and an ex-offender’s victims for input in deciding whether to issue a CQE.

Heather Staab, assistant clinical professor at Akron Law, said all Ohio licensing boards must consider the CQE.

Often, a client qualifies for both expungement and a CQE.

“One woman we helped was homeless,” Staab said. “She wanted to become a home health aide but she had two convictions. Her record was sealed. Now, she’s working full-time and she’s able to take care of her kids.”

The other reentry clinics at Akron Law are the Clemency Project, which trains students to handle pardon applications to the governor, and the Human Trafficking Clinic – which helps victims of human trafficking destroy their criminal records for solicitation or prostitution.

Record sealing just the beginning

Meanwhile, the majority of people who show up to the expungement and CQE clinics have yet another problem to contend with — a suspended driver’s license.

“If you don’t have a driver’s license, you have one heck of a problem,” said William Dowling, an Akron attorney who heads the new VALID (Volunteers Assisting Licensed Individual Drivers) Clinic. “You can’t cash a check. You can’t get a job. So the idea was born to have volunteer lawyers trained to go through the bureaucracy of getting people’s licenses back. That process can be mind-boggling, and often costs hundreds and thousands of dollars in multiple courts. We started holding clinics.

“We get a printout of people’s driving abstract and tell them what they need to do to become licensed drivers again. It’s a recipe to get your license back. We were shocked at how many people showed up to these clinics. We’ve helped a thousand people since we started.”

VALID Clinics are held with the law school’s reentry clinics.

“The courts are referring people to our clinics,” said Dowling. “I think we’re doing some good, and the people are almost universally appreciative. We give them a straightforward, step-by-step guide to the process.”

Soares: Seal Convictions of Those Who Turned Their Lives Around

Times Union 

By Robert Gavin

ALBANY – Albany County District Attorney David Soares said Tuesday he will ask judges to seal the convictions of offenders – including some felons — who have turned their lives around for at least 10 years.

The prosecutor detailed his plans as a state law is about to take effect Saturday allowing people with criminal records to apply to the court system to have their convictions sealed. The law was enacted as part of the “Raise the Age” legislation enacted in April to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 18 for nonviolent offenses.

“The first thing that people think about when you talk about sealing records is the fact that you don’t want violent offenders or people who’ve committed egregious crimes to hide behind some altruistic strategy,” Soares said in a news conference in his office. “Well, that is simply not the case here.”

Offenders who committed or conspired to commit violent crimes such as a murder and sexual offenses would be ineligible as would someone whose conviction was not at least 10 years old.

Those eligible can have up to two convictions sealed, including a felony, he said. Soares said he would be reaching out to the defense bar and public defenders in Albany County and other agencies that service ex-offenders.

He said an “open house” would soon be held in his office to provide attorneys and others guidance on the plan “so we could both be on the same page as we’re assisting individuals to seal their prior convictions.”

Soares said his office has already asked judges to seal records in some cases. He noted examples where he went to bat for a people facing potential deportation for an offense.

In June, Soares announced a three-part plan that included a component to allow defendants between 16 and 24 to resolve cases without a criminal record or any time behind bars.

Two New Nevada Record Sealing Laws Go into Effect

Public News Service

By Suzanne Potter

CARSON CITY, Nev. – An eviction or a criminal conviction can follow a person for decades, making it difficult to get housing or a job.

But two new state laws that just took effect aim to help Nevadans get a fresh start.

Assembly Bill 327 shortens the time people with a clean post-conviction record have to wait to get their records sealed.

The wait goes from two years down to one for most misdemeanors, and from 15 years to five for certain Class B felonies.

Attorney Christena Georgas-Burns with Nevada Legal Services says this allows people to find housing, get work and support themselves and their families again.

“Oftentimes, the people that are sealing their records have already taken major steps to improve their lives and have committed to being law-abiding citizens,” she states. “So, this is one of the final steps in solidifying their progress from whatever past mistakes they may have made.”

Georgas-Burns explains the law does not apply to convictions for sex crimes or felony DUI, and prosecutors have the right to contest the record-sealing request.

Another new law, which began as Assembly Bill 107, makes it much easier to get eviction records sealed.

Many apartment complexes refuse to rent to anyone with an eviction in his or her past. And before the new law, an eviction case would remain on tenants’ records even if they won or the landlord didn’t show up in court.

Attorney Ron Sung, also with Nevada Legal Services, says Assembly Bill 107 orders the courts to automatically seal eviction records in those types of cases.

“Without AB 107, there was simply very little that they can do, other than beg the old landlord to do a legal document to take it off their eviction record,” Sung explains.

The new law also allows tenants who were legally evicted to ask a judge to seal the record, based on special circumstances or on what they believe to be “good cause in the interest of justice.”

California Legislature Passes Bill That Could Give Former Juvenile Offenders a Fresh Start

East Bay Express

By Jessica Lynn

Frankie Guzman is a lawyer for the National Center for Youth Law who’s helped make major changes to the state’s criminal justice system and holds degrees from both UC Berkeley and UCLA.

But if you were to run a simple online background check on him, one of the first things you would see is a felony conviction for a robbery he committed decades ago, at the age of 15. For Guzman, this means he’s been denied housing and is ineligible for many government jobs despite being crime-free for years.

“People will treat you differently, people will assume things about you,” Guzman said. “You could be a husband with a good job and be crime-free and still be stigmatized for that record.”

But a new Senate bill that Guzman co-authored and advocated for could change that. SB 312, which passed through the California Legislature Tuesday, is set to pave the way for people to seal court records for crimes they were convicted of before they turned 17.

Proposed by State Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, the bill is intended to help eliminate hurdles to housing, employment, and post-high school education that former youthful offenders often face. According to The Anti-Recidivism Coalition and the Commonweal Juvenile Justice Program, the bill could impact between 2,000 to 3,000 Californians with juvenile offenses.

“Every aspect of life has an obstacle in front of you if you have a record that you cannot seal,” Skinner wrote in a statement. “SB 312 establishes a fair system for past youthful offenders to demonstrate that they deserve a second chance.”

When Guzman first started looking for housing on his own after college, he said he was denied or ignored by nearly every landlord he tried to rent from. It was only when one of them called him to tell him they had concerns about the felony on his record that he realized his conviction was still showing up on background checks, even though he was convicted of the crime as a teenager.

His record was publicly available because of Proposition 21, a measure passed in 2000 that increased penalties for youthful offenders and barred the sealing of records for juveniles ages 14 to 17 for many felony offenses. In the voter information guide for the 2000 ballot, the argument in favor of the proposition promised that the measure would “protect Californians from criminals who don’t respect human life.”

In order to reverse portions of Prop 21, SB 312 required a two-thirds majority to pass in both houses of the legislature. Although it faced some criticism on the Senate floor as a bill that would let people who committed serious crimes in their youth, like murder, off too easy, it gained the necessary votes in both the Assembly and Senate to be sent to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk.

Guzman stressed that harsher punishments for juvenile offenses often do more harm than good and do not take into account rehabilitation or the increased maturity that comes with age.

With the passage of SB 312, a past offender must be crime-free and show rehabilitation in order to petition to have their records sealed.

The bill, Guzman noted, means that people who have turned their lives around can move up in the world and not have to face permanent consequences for a crime they committed in their youth.

“Kids are kids,” Guzman said. “We should not be punishing them for their entire lifetimes.”

New Law Allows New Yorkers with Decade-Old Convictions to Seal Criminal Record

Daily News New York 

By Shayna Jacobs

People with old convictions who can prove themselves reformed will have a chance at having their cases sealed, under a new state law.

The statute gives candidates with eligible convictions — up to one felony and no more than two crimes total — that are at least a decade old the ability to apply for permanent sealing.

Sex offenders and felons whose acts were considered violent won’t be approved for consideration under the law that kicks in Oct. 7.

District attorneys have 45 days to notify the court whether they expect to challenge a sealing request. The decision on whether to seal is ultimately at the discretion of the sentencing judge, who can consider the candidate’s character and even order a hearing.

Prosecutors in Manhattan and Brooklyn have assigned teams to field inquiries and sort through what is expected to be a surge of applications. Both offices say they are supportive of the progressive measure.

A spokeswoman for Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance Jr. said her office does “not anticipate having to challenge the sealings, except on rare occasions.”

“An old conviction for a minor or a nonviolent offense should not hold people back from moving on with their lives,” added acting Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez.

Defense lawyer Stacey Richman is coordinating with court administrators and clerks on behalf of the New York Criminal Bar Association to discuss putting into place “a practical system to efficiently review applications for sealing.”

Richman said it’s “an advancement for our state to finally recognize that past errors should not confine people to the fringes of society.”

Sealing, she added, “recognizes the value of individual advancement beyond a past transgression — our prior system of a scarlet ’C’ for conviction failed to provide for the logic of actual rehabilitation.”

Former Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Eric Arnone, now a defense lawyer, is already getting calls from interested candidates.

Arnone believes the response citywide will be remarkable once word of the legislation spreads.

“You’re talking about anybody who was convicted over 10 years ago of an eligible offense,” the lawyer said. “That could potentially be tens of thousands of cases.”

The Legal Aid Society expects to pursue a handful of cases at first and — through a Brooklyn pilot initiative — will determine how it might help a large number of clients obtain sealing orders.

Melissa Ader, of the Legal Aid’s employment law unit, said that the sealing statute will go a long way to helping New Yorkers get “a fair chance at finding a job.”

Ader said that while employers are barred from using a person’s convictions against them in making a hiring choice, the illegal practice is commonplace.

Convictions that are sealed under the new statute should be impossible to find for any private employer, although the NYPD will still have access to the sealed data.

“Really the best way for a New Yorker to have a fair chance at finding a job is for an employer to not know about that conviction,” Ader said.

Lawyer Jeremy Saland expects to file for at least one client next month and has gotten about a dozen calls in the past six to eight weeks from others who are interested.

He said the future sealings have the potential to be life-changing.

“I think it’s a tremendous opportunity for people who have paid their dues and have been burdened with the scarlet letter for a decade or more to relieve themselves of a past mistake,” Saland said.

UT’s Expunction Project Gives pro Bono Help for Criminal Record Cleanup

My Statesman 

By Ryan Autullo

Thanks to a free service from University of Texas law students that helps people expunge their criminal records, two of the worst days in Wayne Johnson’s drug-riddled life might as well have never happened.

Johnson recalls Feb. 2, 2014, playing out like a movie scene. A dozen or so federal agents wearing vests stormed into his Central Austin home, the culmination of a multiyear investigation into prescription drug fraud. He had been trading methamphetamine to a physician for narcotic prescriptions and then selling the prescription drugs for a profit.

Out of jail on bond, Johnson was arrested again less than two weeks later, this time near Zilker Park where he was smoking meth.

“I was high as a kite,” he said.

He’s now clean and so too is the portion of his record that would have included documentation of both arrests. On background applications, Johnson can reply legally that he has no arrests related to the two incidents.

Such is the impact of the Expunction Project, a student-run and attorney-supervised clinic at UT that every year helps 100 people like Johnson restore their reputations so they can land employment, housing and other opportunities that otherwise would be hindered by the presence of a criminal history.

“Knowing I’d get a felony expunged was kind of cool,” said Johnson, who also erased two old misdemeanor theft charges.

The service celebrates its fourth year this month, with intake clinics set for Sept. 19 and Sept. 26 at the Travis County Law Library, 314 W. 11th St. The preferred way to register is via email at expunction@law.utexas.edu.

There is no cost, saving clients $300 or more.

Who qualifies

Who is eligible for an expunction? The answer in many cases is complicated and should be addressed by the four local defense attorneys who volunteer with the project. But generally it includes anyone with an arrest that the authorities didn’t pursue in court, a criminal charge that was dismissed and certain misdemeanor offenses committed as a juvenile.

Felony convictions cannot be expunged.

Driving while intoxicated? Well, that’s tricky. Those charges typically are attached to a traffic citation so even if the DWI is dismissed — because, perhaps, there’s no evidence the driver was under the influence of alcohol or drugs — it cannot be expunged because the charge is tied to something like speeding or running a red light.

Lawmakers in 2015 passed a bipartisan bill to broaden access to expungement, including for DWIs. But Gov. Greg Abbott vetoed the bill.

Had Abbott responded differently, according to local attorney Chris Perri, who volunteers at the clinic and is running for congressional District 21 in the 2018 Democratic primary, “we might be able to expunge twice as many arrests.”

Hundreds helped

In recognition for his work with the clinic, Perri earned the 2016 Texas Law Fellowships’ Excellence in Public Interest Award, as did founding partner, Paul Quinzi, who is running for judge of Travis County Court No. 3.

The clinic is the brainchild of UT Law School graduate Meg Clifford, who now develops pro bono projects at the school. Originally aimed at 16- to 24-year-olds who were trying to get back on their feet, it soon expanded to anyone who qualifies for expungement. Fifteen clients showed up for the first round in 2014. Now, through word of mouth and other avenues, participation has grown to about 75 clients per semester, with roughly 50 meeting requirements for expungement.

Law students assist in preparing paperwork.

“The response has been overwhelming,” Quinzi said.

Past clients include a 39-year-old woman who was charged with making a false police report. She asked authorities to find her 17-year-old who had taken a flight to Florida to meet a stranger. Problem is, the son was 19, by law an adult who was free to do what he wanted.

“I wasn’t trying to be misleading,” the woman said. “In a panic, I told her the wrong age.”

With the charge lingering for two years, the woman says she applied for perhaps 30 jobs with no success. The charge was dropped by the court after she completed deferred prosecution and was expunged in December 2016. She since has obtained a specialized work certification and is employed.

The woman, relieved that the arrest is no longer dogging her, asked that the American-Statesman not print her name.

Sense of worth

Johnson, the man with the expunged drug charges, had no such qualms about seeing his name in print.

“The field that I work in, it’s almost a requirement you have a sketchy record,” he cracked.

Off drugs since Feb. 12, 2014, he assists others with substance abuse issues at Communities for Recovery, a nonprofit at the Austin State Hospital. Also, Johnson, 43, and his girlfriend run a Northeast Austin women’s home, Serenity Found Sober Living.

He’s taking classes in social work at Austin Community College and aims to gets his master’s degree at UT.

Two felony drug convictions from years ago cannot be expunged, but he’s grateful for the two that were removed.

“The expungement restored a sense of self-worth that I lost a long time ago,” Johnson said.

Illinois Enacts Broadest Sealing Law in Nation

Collateral Consequences Resource Center 

By CCRC Staff 

On Friday Illinois governor Bruce Rauner signed into law what appears to be the broadest sealing law in the United States, covering almost all felonies and requiring a relatively short eligibility waiting period of three years. We expect to provide a more in-depth discussion of the law next week from practitioners working on the ground in the state, and will soon update the Illinois Restoration of Rights Project profile to reflect these important changes.  In the meantime, we share the following from Cabrini Green Legal Aid, which was among the organizations that helped push the legislation through.

This afternoon, Governor Bruce Rauner signed into law six pieces of legislation that impact people with arrest and conviction records, including HB 2373 – the sealing expansion bill. This marks the LARGEST expansion of a sealing law in the United States and is a huge win in criminal justice reform. Effective immediately, this new law will provide thousands of people in Illinois the opportunity for criminal records relief by allowing them to petition the court to remove barriers in their lives as a result of their past criminal record. On behalf of our partners with the Restoring Rights and Opportunities Coalition of Illinois (RROCI),* Cabrini Green Legal Aid (CGLA) appreciates the support and involvement of so many of you who took action making phone calls, sending emails and traveling to Springfield.

We are extremely grateful to the members of the RROCI coalition and CGLA’s Leadership Council and Visible Voices members who had a weekly presence in Springfield throughout the legislative session, using their voices in the halls of the capitol to humanize this issue and lead the effort. We facilitated 56 trips that required 14 hour commitments by the individuals advocating for this bill. Through leadership development, training and support, CGLA’s goal is to engage those who are directly impacted by systemic change to lead advocacy and education around these issues.

This will be a game changer for CGLA. Over the years, we have met thousands of individuals who did not qualify for sealing. Not only can we start saying YES to those seeking a better future, we can begin to spread hope and strengthen the lives of individuals and families throughout Illinois. If you want to be part of this effort, please join us!

Attorneys can volunteer to help us prepare petitions for clients to seal their records and other volunteers can assist with communications to clients needing additional information about new legislation.

Email volunteer@cgla.net

Request a presentation from our Leadership Council in your community to help raise awareness about sealing expansion.

Email advocacy@cgla.net

Send people to our Help Desk that are now eligible, located at the Daley Center in Room 1006, open Monday through Thursday 9-12 and Thursday afternoon from 1-4. Make sure they obtain a copy of their criminal history reports from the Chicago Police Department (3510 S. Michigan), open 8-12, Monday through Friday. The cost is $16 and they should request their City and Illinois State Police reports.

Thank you again for your support and advocacy on behalf of individuals, families and communities impacted by the collateral consequences of the criminal justice system! Today is indeed, a good day…

Facetime: The Justices and Injustices of Mugshots in a Digital Age

Southside Daily 

By Joan Quigley

Matt Williams looked for his mugshot on the internet recently.

As a William & Mary undergraduate, he’d had a few brushes with the local police.

The first time, in the fall of 2012, officers spotted him walking home. He was just shy of turning 21. He woke up in jail and was charged with underage possession of alcohol and being drunk in public, he said in a recent interview.

The second time, when he was 21 and charged with public intoxication and swearing, there were handcuffs and fingerprints. There was also a mugshot.

“I thought it would be a funny picture to find,” he said.

As historical artifacts, mugshots can be iconic. Think black-and-white arrest photographs for criminals such as Al Capone. Or rockers such as The Doors’ Jim Morrison.

In 2017, though, mugshots can have long internet lives — even if they don’t belong to celebrities or gangsters.

Employer reluctance to hire

Law-enforcement officials release arrest photos to the public and the news media. The media often publishes them, without necessarily following up if a defendant is exonerated.

And in Virginia, the state police maintain a database of an estimated 1.2 million mugshots, known as the Centralized Criminal Information System or CCIS, according to an October 2016 report by Georgetown Law Center on Privacy & Technology titled “The Perpetual Line-Up.”

Mugshots remain in CCIS indefinitely, unless the arrest records are removed through a court-ordered process known as expungement, the report said, and Virginia criminal justice agencies have access to CCIS on request.

That means a minor brush with the law might have a negative effect on people who are enlisting in the military, applying to graduate school or looking for work.

“Everyone with a criminal record is facing that employer reluctance to hire,” said Stephanie Akhter, program director for corrections and reentry at the Council of State Governments Justice Center.

So is there anything you can do to make a mugshot go away if you think it might be hurting your job or other prospects?

Under Virginia law, you can go to court to get an arrest photo removed — or, to use the technical term, expunged — from the VSP database.

“It sounds complicated,” said Rick Collins, a Williamsburg attorney. “Most of them are very simple.”

Complicated or simple, there is a process

The procedure has several steps and it begins with a form, called a petition, filed in circuit court.

Petitioners have to show the “continued existence and possible dissemination” of the arrest-related information causes or might cause a “manifest injustice.”

If the arrest was for a misdemeanor and the person seeking to expunge it has no previous criminal record, the court must grant the expungement request unless the Commonwealth shows “good cause” to the contrary.

Then, if a judge grants the request, the court forwards the order to the state police, which removes the arrest-related records, including photos.

But record clearance isn’t an option for everyone.

Under Virginia law, expungement is available when someone is acquitted, meaning a jury finds them not guilty, when the charges are nolle prosed, meaning the prosecutors drop them, or the charges are otherwise dismissed, or when a person is pardoned.

On a practical level, what does this mean?

For one, statistics about expungements are difficult to come by.

“Unfortunately, it’s practically impossible for us to provide accurate information,” George E. Schaefer, clerk of Norfolk Circuit Court, wrote in an email. “Once someone actually gets an expungement, not only are the old charges removed from the court database but – so there is no record of any kind – so is the petition for expungement.”

In Williamsburg/James City County, the circuit court tracks how many expungement petitions are filed, according to Clerk Mona Foley, but not how many are granted.

In 2015, for example, 43 expungement petitions were filed in Williamsburg/JCC circuit court and 117 were filed in 2016, Foley said. In roughly the first seven months of 2017, from January through mid-July, 50 expungement petitions were filed.

Data about communications between VSP and courts in the Historic Triangle and on the Southside, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, shed some additional light.

Between January 2015 and July 2017, VSP and the Williamsburg/JCC circuit had two communications about successful expungement petitions arising from James City County; there were 140 such communications arising from Williamsburg, according to an email from First Sergeant David L. Ostwinkle, in VSP’s Office of Legal Affairs, who responded to the FOIA request.

During the same period, there were 493 communications from VSP for successful expungement petitions arising from circuit court in Virginia Beach and 295 about successful expungements arising in Norfolk’s circuit court, according to Ostwinkle’s email.

A recent expungement case on the Southside is an example.

In June 2016, a Virginia Beach jury acquitted Robert Malick of second-degree murder. Earlier this year, in March, Malick’s attorney James O. Broccoletti filed papers in Virginia Beach circuit court, asking the court to expunge the murder charge, as well as a rape charge and a sodomy charge which had been nolle prossed in 2016, court documents say.

The Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office opposed the expungement, but the court granted Malick’s requests, according to according to Andy Rosenberg, an assistant Commonwealth’s attorney for the city of Virginia Beach.

Broccoletti did not respond to requests for comment.

On the other hand, Williams, now 25, presents a different situation. He was charged with misdemeanor public intoxication and swearing, according to records in Williamsburg/James City County circuit court.

He was not aware of expungement, he said, and whether his mugshot might have some repercussions is a concern for him.

“It hasn’t,” he said. “But I see how it could.”

(non-prod server)