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Advocates, state judicial leaders seek to streamline expungement process

Updated: Apr. 14, 2021 at 4:37 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - State justice leaders are calling on lawmakers to provide federal funding to better seal and expunge criminal justice records.

Attorney General Josh Stein says the investment is needed to streamline the process and make the justice system more cost effective and more fair.

“When we place barrier after barrier in people’s path to successfully rebuild their lives post-incarceration, we fail them and we fail our communities,” said Attorney General Josh Stein in a press release. “These funds will help us put in place the technology so people can easily get their records cleared or sealed, allowing them to get jobs, find homes, provide for their families, and build successful lives. I urge Congress to provide this funding, which will make communities safer and lower costs in the long run.”

Nearly 70 million Americans, or a third of the US adult population has a criminal record. According to Stein’s office, the federal funds would help millions of people clear or expunge records of arrest or conviction.

North Carolina’s Second Chance Act went into effect in December of 2020, expanding expungement options to some people convicted of lower level crimes.

When the law went into effect, the District attorney’s office had identified 20,000 people in New Hanover County alone that could file for an expungement under the new rules.

Stein and other attorneys general around the nation <a href="https://ncdoj.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/AG-letter-to-congress-requesting-funding-for-record-sealing-and-expungement.pdf" target=_blank>sent this letter</a> urging Congress to appropriate money for technology and infrastructure improvements.

Just because you’re eligible to wipe your criminal record clean under state law doesn’t mean its easy, or even attainable for most people. There’s few online resources out there, the process varies from county to county and is nearly impossible to navigate without an knowledgeable advocate or lawyer.

The “brief,” cliff notes-style guide that helps NC Second Chance Alliance Coordinator Daquan Peters steer people through the process is dozens of pages.

“I’ve had to actually go to the clerk of court and walk several people through the process of obtaining their criminal record, which no one has actually put out there for people. All these individuals know is that they get the record expunged,” said Peters.

The time and effort though is worth it for Peters, who knows firsthand how difficult it is to be successful after paying your debt to society.

“These collateral consequences are with you for the rest your life. You have people who are law abiding citizens, who just want to better themselves, just want to get in housing, be able to get a good job, be able to get a good education, be able to take care of their family and build generational wealth. Just as well as anyone else. All of this is dis-proportionally affecting the Black community and low income people,” said Peters.

Stein’s letter though is sparking a larger conversation about optimizing the process of allowing people to support their families and build a life after getting involved in the justice system.

“If you’re eligible it should be automatic,” said Stein. “We want Congress to help fund state efforts to develop the IT infrastructure in the criminal justice system so we can have more automatic expunctions of people’s criminal records, those who qualify under state law.”

Stein says he hoped to see the funding approved this year, but of course even if the funding passes, it takes time to actually get the system improvements up and running.

Peters likes the concept, but knows the change wont happen overnight. He is working with his team to identify more solutions like mass expungements and localized expungement clinics to help more people get relief sooner, and expand the law to allow more people to qualify to wipe their records clean.

“There’s definitely a lot of work and needs to be done and it’s going to take the community, for one, coming together to advocate for these things,” said Peters.

Peters says anyone that needs help can contact him at LINC for help filing the appeal for an expungement.

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