This week has been designated National Reentry Week by the US Department of Justice. Those who have served their time and paid their debt to society, are at a disadvantage when reentering into the main stream. Pro Bono Net’s LawHelp Interactive provides access to online forms for those who qualify for expungement.
One of the ways previously incarcerated persons can minimize the complications and long term negative effects of serving time is to have their record expunged. Depending on the type of record and history, there might be an opportunity to erase or remove that record. Once the record is “expunged” then opportunities for housing, employment, and economic participation in their communities can become a reality.
In the first 90 days of 2016, 6,822 people used online interviews powered by LawHelp Interactive to learn about expungement in their states, and 2,331 documents were created for submission to the courts. These expungement tools are available online in the states of Washington, Kansas, Arkansas, Kentucky, Illinois, Oklahoma, Ohio, Michigan and Louisiana.
Getting an arrest or criminal record expunged is not an easy process, and the person has to meet very specific conditions. Sometimes the process requires them not only to obtain state criminal records, but also FBI criminal records, as well as letters of support and recommendation. Completing the process is difficult, confusing and frustrating, given the lack of resources out there and the steep requirements.
Not many legal aid groups provide these services due to lack of resources. Sometimes pro bono lawyers help with these cases, and sometimes the counties set up public defender offices or units to assist, but by and large, the screening process is nuanced and time consuming.
Various states are now making online forms and tools available to help people figure out if they might qualify for an expungement and prepare the petition, either on their own, or with the help of pro bono lawyers.
Legal aid groups and their partner nonprofits interested in making online forms and tools available to meet this crucial need, please contact Claudia Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In Washington state, Northwest Justice Project and TeamChild have a project that focuses specifically on juvenile expungement, that includes videos explaining expungement and the online forms: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0z5SYm26QJ4 and http://www.washingtonlawhelp.org/issues/criminal/record-expungement-sealing-records.
Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma is piloting a new program to allow those interested in clearing their records to obtain advice and counsel from a pro bono lawyer, and have the pro bono lawyer provide the documents for the case, using a new capacity in LHI that promotes sharing on the back end, called LHI Connect. http://oklaw.org/issues/expungments
Illinois also makes juvenile expungement tools available online at http://www.Expunge.io.
Sample links to online form projects that are currently live include: