Nonprofit helps Kansans on track to clear criminal records

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Lawyers are helping Kansans with criminal histories try to move forward into better lives.

A free event at Wichita’s Advanced Learning Library Friday served as a screening, to see if people with convictions are able to get them taken off their record. Christine Campbell with the nonprofit Kansas Legal Services is trying to help Kansans get better jobs.

“It occurred to me that I did not go to law school to help rich people get divorced,” Campbell said. “An expungement is basically when you get something erased from your criminal record. So, when you go and apply for a job or housing, you can legally say, ‘No, I have not been convicted of that.’”

State Representative Jim Ward said criminal records can keep people from getting the jobs they want.

“It limits their economic potential, their ability to reintegrate into the community,” Ward said. “This is an opportunity to get that done, to help them get that done.”

Campbell said the screening Friday was a quick way to check if someone is eligible, since not all crimes can be expunged.

“I don’t want to waste peoples’ time,” Campbell said. “A lot of people call us and say, ‘Hey, I think I’m eligible,’ and they’re not eligible. So, the goal is to inform people when they will be eligible, and if they’re eligible in general.”

The event Friday was only the first step in clearing a record. Next, lawyers from Koch Industries will help attendees with the next steps this fall. One attendee said the event could help him get a better-paying job.

“I do nightclub security already,” attendee Nick Ballou said. “But, I’m wanting to venture into the private security field eventually. That’s why I want to get my record expunged.”

The organizers say the work is important to them.

“We walk through the steps that, maybe you can get erased,” Ward said. “You can see maybe a little bit of hope. There’s still that skepticism, but, hey, this is a better day.”

“We do a lot of things for low-income people that otherwise would not have a chance in court to represent themselves,” Campbell said. “So, we try to fill that gap.”

Last year’s drive drew around 800 inquiries, but only around 250 of those people were eligible. The screening event Friday was intended to avoid wasting time.

“We find that if you don’t do everything in one day, it’s a lot easier to do it,” Campbell said.

“There’s so much untapped potential in our community for things like this,” Ward said. “That they had made a mistake in the past, and it’s holding them back. And these kinds of events, when people come together and say, ‘We can fix this,’ are absolutely what makes Wichita a great community.

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