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Why Don't Americans Clear Their Criminal Records?

Tagged under: News USA Criminal Justice Expeal
By Expeal on June 9, 2016.

Omid Ghaffari-Tabrizi found this picture of the inside of a courtroom.

Anyone who has analyzed the criminal justice system will tell you one thing is consistent across the board - most Americans don't clear their criminal records even though they qualify. As a growing number of states change their laws to allow people to Expeal their records, whether through sealing, expunging, or otherwise, education remains a problem.

Ignorance to the option is not the only stumbling block. Cost is another contributing factor to why those who qualify to erase their records don't go through with it. In Kentucky, Louisiana, and Tennessee, the process costs nearly $500. While these states are on the high end, the average is not far off. Add to that the cost of hiring most attorneys, and some people simply cannot afford to take the steps necessary to reclaim their lives.

Madeline Neighly of the Council of State Governments Justice Center sums it up with the following: "A lot of people might be eligible [for Expeal], but they might not know. They might not have access to the paperwork or someone to walk them through the process." Neighly continues, pointing out that "in some cases it's actually quite expensive to file for expungement."

That is where Expeal steps in. Alongside projects done by various non-profit organizations, groups like Expeal have emerged to help provide free or low-cost help to people to erase their records.

Nearly 1 out of 3 Americans have been arrested or have been convicted of a crime. As the stories of people from r/ExCons and in other public forums show, an infraction as minor as a misdemeanor can destroy the chance at getting a good job, living in a nice neighborhood, or even getting into college.

The good news is more and more states are working towards making it easier to Expeal criminal records. In fact according to the VERA Institute of Justice (PDF warning), between 2009 and 2014, 31 states changed their laws to increase the types of charges that qualify. Examples from this year include Pennsylvania, which allowed minor misdemeanor convictions to qualify, as well as Kentucky, which allowed even some low-level felonies to qualify.

The bad news is not every state makes it affordable. In Louisiana, for instance, it costs $550 to file plus an average cost of an additional $2,500 for a lawyer. In fact, most of the state of Louisiana's criminal justice system funds itself through court fees, so those prices won't be coming down anytime soon.

Until the dynamic of the system changes, companies like Expeal and various non-profit agencies out there have stepped into the void. While the court system can seem intimidating, the vast majority of it is driven by templates due to the rules in place. As such, lawyers that have opened up their procedures in the way Expeal has done with their free resources have made it a lot less scary and lot more accessible.

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