By | May 5, 2015

Clearance ProjectSeventy million American adults have an arrest or conviction record. The resulting economic impact to families and communities is devastating. A person with a criminal record faces barriers to securing employment, stable housing, and higher education—essential ingredients for a chance at a better future.

That’s why in April on the Clearinghouse Community we focused on how to represent clients with criminal records.

Our Clearinghouse Article for April, Expungement: A Gateway to Work, looks at how expunging a person’s criminal record—that is, ameliorating the record to the legal extent possible—can help clients find steady employment. The author of the article, Peggy Stevenson, directs the Record Clearance Project at San José State University. In her article, she describes the work of the Record Clearance Project and outlines some practice models for delivering expungement assistance.

I had the opportunity to talk with Peggy and one of her students, Rochelle Rotea, about the Record Clearance Project and how its expungement work affects not only the clients but also the undergraduates who are trained to represent them. The recording of our half-hour conversation is available to view on the Clearinghouse Community.

Sometimes even after a criminal case has been expunged from a person’s record, commercial background screeners report that case to a potential employer. Our April advocacy story, Preventing Background Screeners from Reporting Expunged Criminal Cases, written by Sharon Dietrich of Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, lays out the problem and describes recent litigation under the Fair Credit Reporting Act to stop the practice.  

Our monthly interview to introduce an advocate to the community had a criminal-records focus, too. April’s interviewee was Todd Belcore, the Shriver Center’s own Community Justice Lead Attorney. Todd told us about his legal practice and one of the clients he assisted to clear his criminal record and pursue his chosen career.

The effect of criminal records on families and communities is not new ground for the Shriver Center’s publications. In fact, last year we compiled a featured collection of articles from the past few years of Clearinghouse Review: Journal of Poverty Law and Policy that looked at criminal records. And in February of this year, the Shriver Center published a report by Marie Claire Tran-Leung, When Discretion Means Denial: A National Perspective on Criminal Records Barriers to Federally Subsidized Housing.

The attention to how criminal records harm the economic well-being of families and entire communities could not come at a better time. Unlikely alliances—such as the Center for American Progress and Koch Industries and Sens. Cory Booker and Rand Paul—have formed in the past year under a mutual understanding that the criminal justice system needs serious reform. As the national movement grows to repair the criminal justice system and the millions of people hampered by arrest and conviction records, legal services and equal justice advocates can use the remedies available—such as expungement—to give their clients a leg up in the meantime.

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