The laws surrounding how to get a criminal record sealed or expunged are often extremely intricate. For many who are trying to get their lives back together, this can present a near insurmountable barrier, especially if they don’t have the funds to acquire legal help navigating the red tape. In Louisiana, the complexity of such laws is no exception, and the Justice and Accountability Center has something to say about it.
Last year, they helped nearly 1,000 people, through a combination of event days and scheduled appointments, learn if they were eligible for record expungement and, if so, how to go about doing it. Of those who came through their doors, close to 200 were able to completely erase their criminal pasts. Even in a world with a changing view of criminal behavior and rehabilitation, the extent to which such an event could be life-changing for those individuals can’t be overstated.
Unfortunately, according to the Center, there were actually many more people (over 40% of those evaluated), who were actually eligible to have their records expunged under the law. Unfortunately, these individuals were unable to afford the fees required to actually carry out the process. Apparently, under current law, expungement for eligible individuals costs a flat fee of $550. Of that, about half goes to the state police while a slightly smaller amount ends up in the Clerk’s office that executes the order.
According to Adrienne Wheeler, the Center’s director, the costs of expungement stick individuals trying to get their lives on track in a seemingly impossible situation: They don’t have the money to pay the required administrative fees because they are not employed, and they can’t get a job because they have a criminal record. In the end, this likely affects recidivism rates, among other issues.
These records, even for minor offenses, can affect much more than job seeking as well. Apparently, some individuals find it hard to secure housing in safe neighborhoods when they have a past record, which can in turn affect the company they keep and the opportunities presented to them (such as the ability to travel easily to and from job interviews, work sites, etc.).
This year, the Center held another event, though it has not yet released numbers or similar statistics to last year’s.
In many ways, this event and others like it add to the debate about how reformed criminals can be, and to what extent or at what rate they should be allowed back into society in a regular way. For many, the idea of being punished after already serving a sentence is a double sentence, while others argue it’s a common sense way to keep people safe, at least from violent offenders.
This news also comes right in the middle of the reformation of employer job applications law in many states and at some institutions. Several states are currently moving or have already moved to eliminate the ability to ask about criminal records on a job application, at least until much later in the process where a decision has been made based upon merit, not purely upon the presence of a past conviction.