CAIRO — A Saturday event in Cairo hosted by the Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation and others will take aim at helping those with criminal records clean up their histories with the goal of helping them get better jobs and housing.
“It’s hard enough to find work, so if you have something on your record that can be sealed or expunged, that can help that person find a job,” said Andrew Weaver, an attorney with Land of Lincoln.
The event will be Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Cairo Jr/Sr High School Cafeteria, and focuses on sealing and expunging qualifying criminal histories for low-income persons.
The Ready to Work Initiative, a partnership between Land of Lincoln, Man-Tra-Con, Rend Lake College and Southern 14 Local Work Force Investment Board Corporation, is made possible in part by a grant from the Illinois Lawyers Trust Fund, Weaver said, and works to break down barriers in terms of housing and employment for low-income persons.
“Expungement is a court-ordered process that allows a legal record of an arrest, court supervision or certain probations to be removed, or expunged, from that person’s criminal record," according to a news release about the event. "Sealing removes eligible criminal convictions from public record and prevents most employers from accessing a person’s criminal record without legal authority.”
This event may be especially important for some in Cairo and Alexander County. Last April, the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced it would be relocating all 185 families living in the dilapidated Elmwood and McBride public housing complexes in Cairo. They would be given vouchers to move throughout the public housing system in the region and in the country.
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HUD Spokesman Jerry Brown said with this voucher system residents who are relocating, though they are currently in the HUD system, may be treated similarly as new residents. This means having to go through the application process, potentially including a background check.
“Relocating families could be subject to entry requirements of the individual landlords or the accepting (public housing authorities),” Brown said.
Weaver said Saturday’s event will be a good way to reach those affected by HUD’s decision and will be the first step in the process of cleaning up a person’s criminal history. He said participants will fill out eligibility forms for Land of Lincoln — he said one of the primary qualifications is if a person falls at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty line — and also sign over permission to the group to begin working on their behalf.
Susan Simone, director of litigation and advocacy in Land of Lincoln’s East St. Louis administrative office, said a person wanting to begin the process has to be at least three years removed from the offense they are trying to have expunged and in that time has not committed any offenses that are misdemeanors or felonies.
Simone said not everything is eligible to be expunged or sealed. She said while legislation passed last year broadening what could be included in the process, offenses such as sex crimes, domestic battery, particular acts of animal cruelty and other crimes don’t count. She also said that expungement or sealing will not hide offenses from all types of background checks.
“If an employer is required by statute to conduct a fingerprint background check … even sealed records still would show up,” she said.
Weaver said after starting the process, a Land of Lincoln attorney will be with the participant every step of the way. However, he said court files will not be filed Saturday — the circuit clerk is not involved in the event, he said.
Weaver said there is no limit on who can show up Saturday.
“This is also not just for Alexander County residents or Cairo residents," Weaver said, "it’s just where we will be that day."
The news release said people should bring the case number, date of arrest, arresting law enforcement agency, charges brought and any paperwork they have relating to each case they are wanting to expunge. However, Weaver said if some of these documents are missing, it is not a problem.
“We want as many people to come to this as possible and not having that information should not deter them from coming,” Weaver said.
Weaver did say that there could be a long wait for some and noted that they will not have child care available.