Expungement clinic to be offered

The Bolivar Commercial

Anne Hart Preus

The Mississippi Center for Justice will hold an expungement clinic at the Center for Community and Economic Development/Delta State on Jan. 14-15 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. to help those in the Delta clear their arrest and conviction records.

The clinic is offered in conjunction with Delta State University’s AmeriCorps*VISTA program, and Equal Justice Works.

Specifically, the clinic is designed to remove barriers to employment for people that have arrest and conviction histories.

Kyra McDonald, Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellow at MCJ, is the attorney hosting the clinic for MCJ.

Also on hand will be Linda Stringfellow, director of the AmeriCorps*Volunteers In Service To America program at the Center for Community and Economic Development/Delta State University.

“We’re excited about this opportunity,” McDonald said. “So many Mississippians qualify for expungements but can’t afford the legal representation they need. We are giving our professional legal help for free. We are so happy to offer the service in the Delta.”

“We are grateful to have the services of an AmeriCorps Legal Fellows and the Mississippi Center for Justice in the Delta,” says Stringfellow. “This clinic is the perfect opportunity for individuals to begin the process of taking the appropriate steps in removing barriers to employment.”

Expungement help is also available through the Jackson office of MCJ. Potential clients can find out if they qualify for an expungement and set up an appointment for the clinic by calling McDonald at 769-230-2829.

McDonald said that individual assistance would be provided. The first day she will go through and prepare the documents and the second day the participant will have the petition in hand.

“I will walk each person through the process of getting their records expunged,” said McDonald.

“There are many people incarcerated in the country and one in three have criminal records,” she said. “Mississippi has the second highest incarceration rate. A criminal record impacts a person because it follows them. Employers use background checks and so there are no opportunities to gain employment. A person may have been arrested and not charged, but that follows him/her. Even a minor offense can bar someone from employment.”

According to McDonald, Mississippi offers expungement, but people are not able to pay.

The Mississippi Center for Justice provides the opportunity for those individuals.

“This is an economic opportunity for all Mississippians to support their communities and help those who have made past mistakes,” said McDonald.

While the services offered by MCJ include free expungement petition preparation, clients are responsible for filing their own petitions. Most courts charge a filing fee for expungement petitions, and clients are responsible for these fees. The fees vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. The expungements are for state crimes in Mississippi only, and clients must brig a cop of any and all documents related to offense(s) to be expunged to the clinic. Other conditions also apply.

The Mississippi Center for Justice is a nonprofit, public interest law firm committed to advancing racial and economic justice. Supported and staffed by attorneys, community leaders and volunteers, the Center develops and pursues strategies to combat discrimination and poverty statewide.

Created in 1993, the Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellowship Program is one of the most productive and highly regarded national service programs in the country. AmeriCorps Legal Fellows make a lasting impact on the communities they serve by expanding the legal resources in low-income and underserved communities and facilitating pro bono opportunities.

For 50 years, VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) has been in the forefront of helping communities across America to help them fight poverty. VISTA members devote a year of their lives to challenge poverty’s root causes by mobilizing community volunteers and local resources, and by increasing the capacity of people to rely on themselves. VISTA members’ sole mission is to “Fight Poverty With Passion”.

For more information, please visit www.equaljusticeworks.org and www.cns.gov.