Reentry legal services change lives.

Last month, we wrote a blog post about a fantastic community resource in the South Bay: the San José State University (SJSU) Record Clearance Project. This clinic, led by Professor and Attorney Margaret (Peggy) Stevenson, engages undergraduate students to assist people in clearing their eligible criminal records. They do this by:

  • providing legal education about the dismissal process to potential clients;
  • preparing their clients’ petitions to the court, requesting dismissals and reductions of eligible convictions;
  • leading mock court hearings where people can practice talking to a judge about what a dismissal will mean to them in putting their lives back on track and seeking new opportunities, including better jobs and housing;
  • paying for all the court costs and fees associated with their clients’ cases for dismissal.

This week, the Record Clearance Project shared an INCREDIBLE VIDEO interviewing people in Elmwood Jail who have benefitted from the SJSU expungement clinic. The people interviewed in the video talk about how the expungement process has provided them with new opportunities and countless benefits in moving beyond their past. For example, several folks spoke about how the expungement process helped them find better jobs, access professional licenses that got their careers back on track, and find better housing. Many spoke from the heart about how getting their records dismissed gave them renewed self-confidence & self-love. This service gave people a second chance. See the video below:

Record Clearance Project 3/18/14 from John Kane on Vimeo.

As noted in the video, a judge can dismiss an eligible person’s criminal record “in the interests of justice.” This is a broad standard giving the judge a lot of discretion. This is exactly the type of situation where a lawyer and legal advocates are extremely important! If the judge has discretionary power, advocates can counsel their clients to tell their own story in the most impactful way possible and help advocate for a second chance with the client.

This video highlights the importance doing THIS WORK! And the importance of LEGAL ADVOCACY in reentry! It shows how reducing barriers in reentry, by providing legal services like expungements, changes lives and creates opportunities that otherwise wouldn’t exist. People who need reentry legal services have no legal right to an attorney, and there is no money for these services. Having nonprofit lawyers and volunteers engaged means that more and more people can overcome barriers in reentry and access opportunities to create the lives they dream and work hard for.

Thanks, SJSU Record Clearance Project and the people interviewed for this project, for sharing your work and incredible stories!

— The R & R Team

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