October 20, 2020
As part of ArchCity Defenders’ (ACD) expanding holistic legal advocacy and ‘know your rights’ learning opportunities, ACD is hosting virtual education sessions on expungement, the process of sealing a person’s criminal record, including records of conviction, arrests, and even arrest where charges were not filed.
The upcoming sessions are free and will be held via Zoom on Tuesday, October 20 at 12pm, and Wednesday, October 21 at 6pm. Registration is required.
“These education sessions, like previous ‘know your rights’ initiatives from ACD, are rooted in challenging the direct and systemic injustices people entangled with the legal system are forced to face,” said Blake Strode, Executive Director of ArchCity Defenders. “There’s no reason an arrest or conviction, which is already rooted in a racist system that criminalizes poverty, should prevent access to basic needs like housing and employment, but it does under our current policy regime.”
In the presentation, Martin Hutchins, a Racial Justice Fellow and Staff Attorney at ACD, will cover what expungement is, recent changes to Missouri’s expungement law(s), and issues people face in the process of going through expungement. The sessions will also cover steps people can take if they’re interested in starting the process of getting their criminal record sealed (arrests, and misdemeanor & felony convictions).
Why do this now?
- MO’s Expungement law went through major changes in 2018, and more changes recently.
- Recent reports from MO courts show that very few people are pursuing expungement even though many may be eligible.
- Criminal records create several barriers to people gaining employment, education and housing.
- Tackling these barriers has become even more urgent due to the pandemic as coronavirus continues to cause further housing instability, unemployment, etc.–those with records will face even more difficulty in bouncing back
The target audience for this includes people personally impacted by the criminal legal system and wanting to learn about expungement for themselves and/or someone they care about. These sessions are also intended for local (and statewide) service providers who work with people who have prior criminal records.
“As conversations unfold about re-imagining public safety in St. Louis and nationally, we hope to spark individual curiosity about expungement and raise community awareness about this process that very few people pursue often because of cost and hurdles created by the state,” said Martin Hutchins of ArchCity Defenders.
An annual report from Missouri’s Department of Corrections provides a look into a few groups of people that have successfully fulfilled some of the requirements for expungement, and are one step closer to being eligible. For example, in 2012, over 11,000 people completed dispositions relating to nonviolent and drug offenses, meaning they were no longer incarcerated or were off probation/parole. State law requires individuals to wait seven years (upon completing their disposition) before they are eligible to apply to have a felony expunged.
Additionally, Missouri court reports provide a way to gage how many people have actually pursued getting their records expunged by revealing how many cases have been filed throughout the state. Data from 2018 indicates that only 1,187 expungement cases were filed in Missouri. Of those 1,187 filed cases, 378 were filed in the Greater St. Louis area, and 62 filed in the Greater Kansas City area.
The expungement info sessions are a continuation of public education ACD’s provided on various ‘know your rights’ topics. Stemming from the systemic criminalization of race and poverty and the underrepresentation of people in local courts, ArchCity Defenders launched a #ProSeSTL initiative, providing guidance to people who get arrested, held on money bail, and/or people who are representing themselves in court. Since the rise of COVID-19, ACD has also provided virtual ‘know your rights’ sessions on housing and municipal courts. Those recordings can be found on ACD’s YouTube channel.