FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Teri Ross, Program Director
Illinois Legal Aid Online
New legal information and documents on IllinoisLegalAid.org simplify criminal record expungement, sealing process
CHICAGO, IL, August 24, 2011 – Illinois residents weighed down by criminal records will have an easier time getting a fresh start thanks to a new online interview and form preparation system on IllinoisLegalAid.org that allows people to determine if they are eligible for criminal record expungement or sealing and create the necessary legal documents to file.
Across the U.S., one in four adults, or 65 million people, have a criminal record. Criminal records aren’t limited to convictions— all arrests and charges, even if later dismissed, are listed on a person’s police record indefinitely unless petitioned to be removed.
Illinois Legal Aid Online released its new series of criminal record expungement and sealing resources in conjunction with legislation signed on Friday, August 19, by Gov. Pat Quinn that expands record sealing eligibility to include most arrests that did not lead to a finding of guilt.
While more people will be able to seal arrest records under the new law, the process remains bewildering to most who stand to benefit. Illinois Legal Aid Online makes navigating this process easy, free and available 24/7
State Sen. Kimberly Lightford, a chief sponsor of House Bill 298, said: “When someone is arrested for a serious crime and later found to be innocent, the charge still appears on their record. As a result, that person faces numerous difficulties, including struggling to find work. This bill would address those kinds of situations by allowing a person to petition a court to have the record of felony arrest sealed when the person is found to be not guilty or the charge is dismissed.”
“I commend Illinois Legal Aid Online for their efforts to implement a program that will inform the public about this new law and help them determine whether or not they are eligible,” State Sen. Lightford added.
Illinois Legal Aid Online released five sets of comprehensive resources on IllinoisLegalAid.org: Expunging A Criminal Record, Sealing A Criminal Record, Expunging a Juvenile Record, How Can I Clear My Record if Someone Used My Identity While Committing a Crime? and Petitioning for Executive Clemency. These resources are written at a low-literacy level and include information about legal rights and responsibilities, interactive forms, self-representation instructions, and referrals to free and low-cost legal services.
Illinois Legal Aid Online designed specialized online interviews on IllinoisLegalAid.org to determine whether a person is likely to qualify for expungement, juvenile record expungement, sealing, or clemency based on their responses to questions about their criminal record. Website users who appear eligible to seal or expunge their criminal records in Cook County can access the website’s interactive form preparation system. Those in other parts of the state can access instructions and forms created by the Office of the State Appellate Defender.
The accurate completion of criminal record expungement and sealing petitions may make or break a person’s case. IllinoisLegalAid.org’s form preparation system simplifies the process by presenting website users with a series of straightforward questions instead of blank lines to fill in on an undecipherable legal form. For example, users are asked “What is your name?” instead of given a blank space for “Petitioner.” When they are done answering the questions, they click a button and the documents are assembled with the information provided in the interview, similar to how tax preparation software generates tax forms.
These new forms and information for record expungement and sealing will aid Illinois residents in their pursuit of gainful opportunities. Individuals with criminal records face multiple barriers to obtaining employment, professional licenses, loans and credit, and housing assistance. According to a recently published survey of the Society of Human Resources Management - the world’s largest association of human resources personnel - 92% of employers perform criminal background checks on some or all job candidates.
“The criminal record is one of the most debilitating lifelong restrictions to employment a person could face,” said Tony Lowery, Director of Policy and Advocacy for the Safer Foundation, which works to promote the successful reentry of ex-offenders and reduce recidivism through employment, education, and support services in Illinois.
A recent study by the Adler School of Professional Psychology shows Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood alone had 63,000 arrests between 2006 and 2010. The majority of those arrested are young African American males whose rap sheets are preventing them from obtaining livable wage jobs, said Lowery. “Most people don’t understand that arrest records have to be expunged,” he said.
Beth Johnson, director of Cabrini Green Legal Aid’s criminal records program, said the online resources will be especially beneficial to those who don’t have access to free or low-cost legal assistance. CGLA’s Expungement Help Desk at the Daley Center sees over 4,500 people year, in which 81% are either unemployed or underemployed. “Due to our limited staffing and resources, we are forced to turn away many people each week from the Expungement Help Desk, and people who work may be unable to make it during our morning hours,” she said. “These amazing new online resources will give them a place to go 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.”
About Illinois Legal Aid Online
Illinois Legal Aid Online is a nationally-recognized, groundbreaking statewide technology center for legal services. Since 2001, we have put the law within reach for lower-income Illinois residents by developing technology and information to increase access to justice. For more information, please visit www.IllinoisLegalAidOnline.org.
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