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Pro Bono As We See It

Pro Bono

September 10, 2020

A Second Chance through Expungement

With the pro bono legal community’s recent increased focus on racial justice and criminal justice, Pro Bono Institute (PBI) and its Corporate Pro Bono project (CPBO) have seen a growing interest in pro bono work related to criminal expungement. Pro bono work includes both direct legal services to low-income individuals with criminal records and advancing progressive policy reform.  

A criminal record — including an arrest record that did not result in conviction, an old conviction, and a conviction for a misdemeanor – is often a barrier to obtaining employment, housing, education, public benefits, and other necessities, and can have collateral damage  that impact communities, including children.  Expungement, or removal, of arrests or convictions from a person’s criminal record, and sealing criminal records from public view, can help people who have been in the criminal justice system to get a second chance. 

There is systemic racial bias resulting in disproportionate representation of Black and Brown people in the criminal justice system. Working on expungement policy reform and helping people of color to seek expungement of their criminal records is a way to contribute to advancement of racial justice.

If your firm or legal department is interested in getting involved with expungement pro bono work, there are many helpful resources to learn more about the issue, including the following:

  • The Collateral Consequences Resource Center (CCRC) has many excellent resources related to expungement, including legal analyses, model laws, and practice guides. CCRC recently published a National Survey of Restoration Laws regarding the laws aimed at restoring rights and opportunities after arrest or conviction. CCRC, working with lawyers, judges, lawmakers, academics, policy experts, and advocates, produced a Model Law on Non-Conviction Records with the objective of limiting access to and use of criminal records from arrests and criminal prosecutions that do not result in conviction. 
  • CCRC also houses the Restoration of Rights Project (RRP), in partnership with the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, National Legal Aid & Defender Association, National HIRE Network, and Association of Prosecuting Attorneys. The RRP has analyses of the law and policy in each U.S. jurisdiction relating to restoration of rights following arrest or conviction. This provides a 50-state comparison of policies on expungement, sealing and other record relief. Most states provide for expungement or sealing of some certain types of criminal records, though the federal government does not.
  • The Clean Slate Initiative is a national bipartisan coalition advancing policies to automatically clear all eligible criminal records across the United States.  They provide in-kind policy, technical, and advocacy assistance to state and local partners.
  • The National Record Clearing Project, launched by Community Legal Services in Philadelphia, is working to increase and improve record clearing around the country, to close the second chance gap.  Pennsylvania’s Clean Slate law made it the first state in the nation to seal records by automation, without the need to file a petition in court.  This rule change has increased momentum for a federal clean slate bill.
  • The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) produced a webinar about expungement reform and the real-world impact these reforms have on formerly convicted individuals who received a second chance through expungement.

PBI and CPBO see tremendous potential for firms and legal departments to have an impact on this critical issue. By working together, we can help effect change on this systemic criminal justice issue. If you’re interested in getting involved in criminal expungement representation or in policy reform, please let us know at probono@probonoinst.orgor cpbo@probonoinst.org

June 30, 2017

Mischief Managed!

We couldn’t help but notice that the “Harry Potter” series turned 20 this week. Wow! Time flies. You don’t have to be a child or a wizard to appreciate the spell cast by J.K. Rowling. Pro bono-supporting muggles could learn a lot from her and the magical world that she created.

One of our favorite takeaways is from a speech she gave in 2008 at Harvard University: “We do not need magic to transform the world.  We carry all the power we need inside ourselves already. We have the power to imagine better.” Like all struggles, the march toward access to justice can be slow, demanding, and collective. Progress comes from quiet, persistent efforts of pro bono leaders, supporters, and doers. Despite setbacks and obstacles, we press on, believing that for all the challenges and obstacles there will be some days when we succeed in, to paraphrase another immortal aspiration, bending the long arc of the moral universe ever closer toward justice.

“[H]appiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) Pro bono champions can be that light. We are improving lives, protecting rights, and advancing access to justice every day.  Pro bono has the power to transform and make the world a better place.