CARBONDALE — Several residents used a clinic in downtown Carbondale Saturday to take the first step in moving forward a prior criminal conviction.
The Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance, NAACP Carbondale Branch and The Center for Empowerment and Justice teamed up to host a workshop for individuals to start the process of getting criminal records expunged or sealed.
Charah Mckinzie, Land of Lincoln paralegal, said the clinic was part of the organization’s Ready to Work initiative.
“We are trying to help people get back to work,” she said.
After speaking with many clients Saturday, Mckinzie said the overarching theme has been that somebody committed a crime 20 years ago or more and they now just want to move forward. The clinic started by checking to see if somebody were eligible to have a record expunged or sealed. After the initial step, she said, there were five licensed attorneys ready to help them in moving forward.
The expungement of a criminal record is the process in which the record is destroyed. The sealing of a record is when the documents are hidden. Mckinzie said clients are informed when a record is sealed that certain professions could still have access to the records, including in the healthcare field and some government agencies.
Certain offenses such as driving under the influence, domestic battery and animal cruelty are not eligible for expungement or sealing.
Saturday's clinic was just the first step in the process. Mckinzie said people on Saturday were told if they can move forward with the process. The next step is to get a petition drafted and start the court proceedings.
She said it is better to have an attorney represent them, but it can be done without one. She said there are attorneys with Land of Lincoln that could represent those who qualify. More likely than not, if a person qualifies for most government benefits, they most likely qualify for help from the organization.
“A lot of people don’t know this process exists,” Mckinzie said. “It is an additional resource that people may not have known is available to them.”
Andrew Weaver, an attorney with Land of Lincoln, said this was the third clinic this year. There were two in Cairo earlier this year and there is another scheduled in Mount Vernon in July.
Additionally, there are monthly workshops on the second Friday of every month rotating between Marion and Mount Vernon. He said most of the people working are volunteering their time, and individuals should expect to spend at least one hour at a minimum at an event.
Roy Mazuchowski, communications chair for the NACCP Carbondale Branch, said he was glad to see people attending the event.
“Being able to get a job and financial aid are contingent on convictions and if they are able to get that wiped away, then you are able to have a fresh start in life,” he said. “Carbondale has a high African-American population and a lot of this community has some type of background they would like to get wiped away.”
He said a lot of them are small crimes that may have happened when a person was a juvenile or 18 years old. Then they realized at about 25 or 26 years old that such crimes could be inhibiting them from employment or housing, they need to fix it.
“One of the ways to do that if getting their record sealed,” Mazuchowski said. “By having this, it shows people that the Carbondale NAACP, Center for Empowerment and Justice, and Land of Lincoln are very serious about helping people get a fresh start.”
For more information about Land of Lincoln or expunging and sealing records call 618-457-7800 or visit www.lollaf.org.