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Madison County Residents With A Criminal Record Have A Chance To Wipe The Slate Clean

Land of Lincoln Legal Aid Staff Attorney Nicole Massey (right) assists a volunteer at an Expungement Day event in Champaign County in 2018. Land of Lincoln will run a similar even in Woodriver on Sept. 27.
Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation
Land of Lincoln Legal Aid staff attorney Nicole Massey (right) assists a volunteer at an Expungement Day event in Champaign County in 2018. Land of Lincoln will run a similar event in Wood River on Sept. 27.

WOOD RIVER — More than 7 million people in Illinois have a criminal record, according to the 2016 Survey of State Criminal History Information Systems. And 100 of them in Madison County will take the first step to sealing or expunging their criminal histories on Friday. 

It’s part of the Ready to Work: Madison County Expungement Day event hosted byLand of Lincoln Legal Aid Foundation, a not-for-profit corporation that provides free civil legal services to seniors and low-income residents in central and southern Illinois.

The event helps people get a clean slate, since criminal records can block them from securing housing or a good job, said Dan Kuehnert, a staff attorney with Land of Lincoln. 

“People are really there because they want to move forward with their lives,” he said. “They want to be able to put the past and these records behind them.”

There is a difference between record expungement and record sealing. 

Expungement is for arrests that result in a non-conviction, dismissal or acquittal, Kuehnert said. Record sealing applies to convictions that result in any type of sentence that’s more than supervision. 

“Generally, Illinois law allows most types of offenses to be expunged or sealed,” he said. 

There are some crimes that cannot be sealed or expunged in Illinois. These include convictions for domestic violence, animal cruelty and sex offenses. Kuehnert said there is a similarity in the kinds of crimes people want to wipe from their record.

“A lot of what I see is how a minor drug offence or a retail theft conviction — shoplifting — can really hold you back for the rest of your life,” Kuehnert said. 

The crimes that can be subject to expungement are those that society in general has decided aren’t that serious, said Daniel Harawa, an assistant professor at the Washington University School of Law.

“Once you serve your debt to society, you’re supposed to be able to re-enter society and live as a full citizen,” Harawa said. “Sealing records is extremely important for people to be able to participate in society fully without this conviction hanging over their head.”

The presence of a criminal record can severely impact someone’s ability to find a job or home and overall security, said Trevor Gardner, a Washington University law professor. A criminal record, which can be as little as an arrest, is one of the main barriers to finding a job, he said.

“If we’re serious about solving these problems of economic inequality and racial inequality, we need to be more diligent in eliminating barriers to employment,” Gardner said. “Employment is central to getting people back on their feet, putting them in a position where they’re less likely to be subject to an arrest.”

How it works 

People who take part in the Friday event won’t immediately have their criminal record wiped clean. In Madison County, the state allows 60 days for its attorneys and the arresting agency to object to the expungement or sealing petition, Kuehnert said. If no appeals are made within that 60-day period, a judge will order the records sealed or expunged. Then a court clerk or Illinois State Police have up to 60 days to comply with the order. 

This isn’t the first expungement day for Madison County, but it is the first one run by Land of Lincoln. In past years, the Simmons, Hanly, Conroy law firm hosted Second Chance Saturday events that offered the same kinds of record expungement and sealing services. 

The Land of Lincoln event this year had a lot of interest, and the organization had to cap the number of people it could serve to 100, Kuehnert said. 

Even though registration for this year’s event has closed, Kuehnert said Land of Lincoln provides these kinds of expungement services and others year-round. 

Eric Schmid covers the Metro East for St. Louis Public Radio as part of the journalism grant program Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project. Follow Eric on Twitter: @EricDSchmid

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Eric Schmid covers business and economic development for St. Louis Public Radio.