Category Archives: expungement

Can you really erase your record?

I’ve alluded before to the fact that getting a conviction expunged doesn’t  guarantee you’ll come up clean in a background check.  Often, it takes no more than a Google search to find news of an arrest or sentencing, while some  government databases can still carry this  information well after an individual has gone to the trouble and expense to get his/her record sealed. 

Now some legislators in Ohio are trying to change that.  A bill introduced by Sen. Shirley Smith (D-Cleveland), would not only enable ex-offenders to get their records cleared after 5 years.  According to an article in the Columbus Dispatch, the new law would also:

1. Require individuals and private businesses to erase the historical record by destroying “records” they hold about the convictions of those whose cases are sealed.

2.  Require individuals, newspapers and other news media to delete stories from the Internet and their archives about the arrests and convictions of those who win expungement orders.  This, or face fines and/or damages from $250,000 to $1,000,000. 

Although the bill seems like a bit of a reach —  particularly in its attempt to get media organizations to delete the historical record — it does shed light on the  difficulties of starting over, even if you play by the rules.  My take:  People with criminal records who have had their records supposedly sealed, should not then have to have them used against them just because the information remains in the public record.

The question is whether a bill like this is the way to address it.  What do you think should be done?

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Filed under criminal records, discrimination, employment ex-offenders, expungement, hope for ex-offenders, reentry, second chances

Happy graduation: School’s out!

MyEmployability Skills  class just ended, so I’ll be taking a break until the new school year.   A break from teaching, that is, since I use some of my  downtime to research programs and issues that might be of interest to the formerly incarcerated and those who work with them.  

Next week, in addition to a Straight Talk guest post, from Cleveland, OH- based blogger and reentry advocate James E. Walker Jr., I’ll also be looking at the status of the “ban the box” campaign.  This is the initiative that has already successfully removed or is in the process of removing the question : “Have you ever been convicted of a felony? from applications in nearly 30 cities, states and counties. 

I’ll also be getting ready for the Community Reentry and Expungement Summit 2010.  It will be hosted by the Public Defender Service here in Washington, DC on June 30, and offer information on housing, vocational training, jobs and reentry services in the area.  Attorneys will also  offer legal advice on record-sealing and expungement, which is an area where I always receive questions.    I promise to report back on what I learn.  So stay tuned…..

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Filed under ex-offenders education, expungement, job search ex-offenders, job training, jobs ex-offenders, reentry resources, training for ex-offenders

Jail to Job’s Eric Mayo answers questions for ex-offenders

Today, we’re very fortunate to have Eric Mayo visiting Out and Employed  to answer some of the most common questions ex-offenders  have about their post-release job search.  Eric is an author, lecturer and motivational speaker who began working with the unemployed and underemployed 12 years ago.  When he found many of them had criminal histories, he began to focus on the barriers these individuals face.  He now writes the popular Jail to Job blog, where he regularly takes on all types of queries from former offenders and their families.  I recently named Jail to Job one of my must-read blogs.  It’s certainly one I turn to regularly for Mayo’s deeply researched and insightful answers to some tough questions.   Here’s what he had to say to some from my readers and students:

What is the most common question you hear from ex-offenders?

The most common question I get is “Where can I find a Job?”   Jobs are always where you find them.  There is no one place to get a job because jobs can be found just about anywhere.  You  have to be ready to dig, network and dig some more.

Many people got their job leads from people they know.  This is called networking.  Networking is the most effective method of finding employment leads.  Most jobs are never advertised because they are usually filled by personal contacts.  In fact, employers would rather hire someone referred to them by people they know rather than to painfully sort through resumes and applications.  People in your life who might be  potential leads for a job include:

·         Friends

·         Relatives

·         Neighbors

·         Parole/probation officers

·         Members of your religious group ( ministers, priests, imams, etc.)

·         Former teachers

·         Former co- workers

·         Former employers

·         Classmates

·         Casual acquaintances

·         People you do business with (hairstylists, barbers, doctors)

In each group, see if you can list five people that you can contact.  That is at least 55 people that could help you in your job search.  Let each person know that you are looking for a job and that any information they have for you would be helpful.  Have copies of your resume handy for your contacts to give to other people.

Never ask for a job.  Only ask for information about job leads or for advice.  The more people you’re able to contact, the more leads you will get.  Remember, this is a numbers game.  Often getting a job lead may circumvent the entire application process and the dreaded “have you ever been convicted of a crime?” question.

What’s the best way for ex-offenders to  answer questions about their  criminal record that appear on job applications?  Sometimes reentry counselors recommend writing “will discuss at interview.”  Is this a good strategy?

That totally depends on the question. The question is usually “Have you ever been convicted of a crime other that a traffic violation.”  “Will discuss at interview” does not answer the question.  Often applications with this response are removed from consideration.

What is the biggest mistake ex-offenders make when they look for jobs?

Many ex-offenders are simply not competitive.  Many lack interviewing skills, interpersonal skills and visual presentation.  Getting a job with a criminal record is tough enough.  Without even these basic skills, it’s that much tougher.

One-stop Career Centers provide an extensive list of services that can help anyone prepare for a successful job search.  I have posted a video on Youtube that speaks briefly to this.  You can find it here:


Often ex-offenders will decide to move to another place to escape their records.  Is this a good strategy?  Does it work?

In this age of computers that offer instant access to information, moving to escape records is nearly impossible.

Are there certain jobs that ex-offenders simply can’t get?   How difficult is it for a former felon to get a job with the federal government?  In the medical field?

The federal government does background checks, but having a record will not automatically disqualify ex-offenders or felons.  Licensing or certification in the medical field will vary from state to state  and is at the discretion of each state’s licensing board. Ex-offenders and felons can inquire directly to their state’s board to see if their  respective conviction will keep them from being licensed.

Are there particular companies or industries you know of that are more open to hiring ex-offenders?

It is my experience that ex-offenders and felons will be more successful in the building trades or construction fields.  Manufacturing, warehousing, restaurant and maintenance are other options.

Are ex-offenders required to disclose information about arrests that didn’t lead to convictions or juvenile offenses?  Can companies still use information obtained through a background check about these types of offenses as a reason not to hire an individual?

Applicant’s should pay careful attention to the wording because it will vary from application to application.  Typically applications will ask for convictions and not arrests.  Applicant should always give the information that is asked for.  As for juvenile convictions, they will not appear on most background checks.  Employers may have access to law enforcement background checks that will include all convictions including juvenile and sealed.  It is next to impossible, however, to contend exactly which information is used to disqualify an individual.

When should ex-offenders consider expungement?  In the days when so much information is available on line, does getting your record expunged still help?

It may help, but most states are very conservative when it comes to expungement and sealing of records.  I encourage ex-offenders and felons to simply look at their criminal records as handicaps that they will have to work extra hard to overcome.

What other misinformation or bad advice do you see out there for ex-offenders?

Often unscrupulous attorneys will claim to be able to have records expunged.  A little homework and a trip to the local legal aid office will help ex-offenders and felons get honest advice as well as assistance.

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Filed under background checks, companies hiring ex-offenders, criminal records, discrimination, employers hiring ex-offenders, employment ex-offenders, ex-offenders moving/relocating, expungement, job search ex-offenders, jobs ex-offenders, reentry, reentry resources

Another reason to be honest about your record…

Apparently, some people are using Twitter to spread word about  individuals who are arrested, according to Matt Kelley’s blog.   In fact,  Montgomery County, Texas District Attorney Brett Ligon recently started tweeting all of his DUI arrests (including names and case numbers).

Tweets,  for the uninitiated,  are those short messages that people can send from their computers, blackberrys and cell phones and broadcast instantaneously to anyone who is following them.  The argument these new “offense tweeters” are using is that this they’re merely passing along information that is already public in the daily police blotter.

I’m not so sure how I feel about this.  I’m all for living in an open society where information is disseminated freely.  On the other hand, an arrest obviously doesn’t mean conviction — and there’s potential here to hurt an even greater number of reputations before a case has been adjudicated.  Plus, these messages don’t go away. Instead, they may live on in the Internet even long after a case has been dismissed.  I’ve already written about how such information presents difficulties for individuals who have had their records expunged.

Bottom-line for ex-offenders:  Be honest about your background.  I don’t know how this Twitter issue will be resolved, but it’s just one more reminder that arrest information is out there and more available than it’s ever been.  All the more reason to be upfront in a job interview and not take chances.

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Expungement alert: more seeking to wipe out convictions

If  you’ve every considered trying to get an expungement, you might want to check out this article in today’s Wall Street Journal.   Apparently, a tough job market combined with the fact that the vast majority of exmployers now do background checks  is prompting more ex-offenders to try to clear their records.

I’m still not sure I’d recommend this route, unless you’ve got the most minor of convictions and were charged in a more lenient state.  (You can check out the rules for your jurisdiction here ).  As the author rightly points out, sometimes even after you go through all the hassle and cost to get your record cleared, employers can find out about it  in other ways: through  arrest records, police reports, news stories and even, sadly, Google. 

That said, the article contains some data worth remembering:

 Background checks have become more commonplace in the years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and cheaper. More than 80% of companies performed such checks in 2006, compared with fewer than 50% in 1998, according to the Society for Human Resource Management, an association of HR professionals.

And this: 

Even 10 years ago, background checks tended to be cursory or expensive. Now, database providers can quickly access information from the country’s approximately 3,100 court jurisdictions, charging $10 or less for simple checks.

There’s another great reminder in the piece about why honesty about your record — as painful as it is, and no matter how long it’s been — is still the best policy. One man, arrested more than 20 years  ago on a questionable assault charge, didn’t disclose this on his application and was denied work after his record was discovered in a background check.

“If someone has a criminal history, we can work with them,” said the company’s general counsel Mike. Lehman. “But if they have one and lie to us, that’s pretty ominous.”

What’s most interesting to me: the  fact this issue has come to front burner precisely because people who have been working for years — some  at jobs they got  before background checks were so universal  — are only now finding their records coming back to haunt them. That these are ex-offenders with steady work records, who really have put their pasts behind them and lived productively until the economy tanked, could be good news.  It shows that people can change and could lead to greater sympathy and reform.
Not unlike the renewed focus on discrimination that I wrote about here.  As a side note, it’s interesting the WSJ poll seems to be running 2 to 1  in support of non-violent ex-offenders being granted expungements.

What do you all think?

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Filed under criminal records, expungement, jobs ex-offenders

On the legislative front…

From thecrimereport.org comes news  that Sen. Jim Webb’s bill to set  up a  national commission on criminal justice reform has been redrafted.  It could be taken up again by the Senate Judiciary Committee as early as tomorrow.  Apparently, there had been complaints the measure didn’t have enough state and local representation on the panel.  That’s been corrected as noted here.

Meanwhile, the folks at the Legal Action Center tell me that work is afoot to ensure that the The Second Chance Act of 2008  is definitely renewed after it’s three-year authorization runs out.  Attorneys, advocates, legislators and other interested parties are evaluating what, if any, changes need to be made to make the bill more effective.  The Second Chance Act provides $165 million to fund education, treatment and  re-entry services for ex-offenders.  Awards have been announced throughout the country, but local agencies and non-profits must wait until Congress has authorized the budget before the monies will be released.

As to other legislation:  Sen. Charles Rangel’s two bills on expungement and returning voting rights to former offenders are again unlikely to see any activity in this year’s session.

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