MACON, Ga. — Landing a job or finding a home can be an uphill climb for those with a criminal record.
Background checks can reveal past transgressions that make the applicant undesirable for prospective employers or landlords.
How can those seeking a better future succeed?
For some, it means restricting their criminal record.
Under newly revised Georgia law, many misdemeanor and even some felony convictions are eligible for removal of records from public view.
Records are not expunged or totally erased, but can only be seen by law enforcement for criminal justice purposes.
Gov. Brian Kemp signed the “second chance” bill into law last August. The revision not only allows for record restrictions when a charge was dismissed or if a prosecutor decided not to go forward with the case, but for some convictions at least 10 years in the past.
To be eligible, the individual must have paid court-ordered financial obligations and remained free of felony convictions. Others who went through pre-trial diversion or alternative sentencing programs may also qualify.
There are other stipulations in the law that are best navigated by legal professionals, but are largely unknown to those who need a fresh start.
Changing the Face of Justice Day
Wednesday, Macon Judicial Circuit District Attorney Anita Howard is hosting the “Changing Face of Justice Day,” which includes a 4 p.m. virtual town hall about the record restriction process in Georgia.
“Even when you’ve committed a non-violent offense, served time and met your probation requirements, that stigma can hang over your head. If there’s an opportunity to have that removed so you can live your life, we want to push that forward,” said Keisha Carter, community relations coordinator for the Macon Judicial Circuit.
Howard’s office has a staff member devoted to record restrictions but there is such a demand that more help is needed.
Retired judge Bill Adams left the State Court bench so he could help bridge gaps in legal services he saw during his career.
“We all agree this is something we need to be doing as a community and reaching out to folks to let them know things can be done and reaching out to get those things done,” Adams said.
He now leads Middle Georgia Justice, a non-profit organization working to provide legal services for those who cannot afford to hire an attorney.
Fledgling lawyers looking for support in starting their own law practice pay a fee for office space and mentoring through Middle Georgia Justice. In exchange, they provide pro bono and reduced fee legal work during the 18-month incubator project.
Records restriction falls under the organization’s purview but can be time consuming.
Adams plans to draft law students to help pull some of the criminal histories in a broad base approach to tap into available legal resources.
Webinar attendance required
Similar records restriction informational events have been held across the state.
Within two weeks, up to 50 people who attended the free webinar will be able to apply for records restriction. By the end of the month, attorneys will begin the records search and hopefully finish the process by the end of summer, Adams said.
Carter believes the collaborative effort will change lives.
“It’s a great partnership and we’re really excited,” she said.
Those who have been turned down for records restriction in the past still should attend the town hall to see if there is a way for them to qualify, she said.
“Once you have served your time, especially our non-violent offenders, we want to make sure they have no reason to offend again and this is a great way to do that,” Carter said.
At least one other records restriction event is planned by the end of the year.
“We not only have to do what we can to keep our citizens safe but we have a responsibility to see that justice is also served for those who have done their time.”
Civic Journalism Senior Fellow covers government entities for the Center for Collaborative Journalism and can be reached at 478-301-2976 or firstname.lastname@example.org.