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Partnership Aims to Expunge Criminal Records

Giving people a second chance by clearing their records, that's what a partnership in Tarrant County is aiming to do this weekend.

The idea came out of community meetings in Fort Worth's Historic Stop Six Neighborhood.

The solution is a legal filing that few Texans, who qualify, take advantage of and area leaders hope it will have a major impact on their community.

The partnership is between Fort Worth ISD, Tarrant County Commissioners, the district attorney's office and the L. Clifford Davis Legal Association. The term they're using is "expunction", a legal term that allows someone's record to be essentially made clean.

"It's an opportunity for an individual to have their record completely destroyed," said Crystal Gayden, the current president of the L. Clifford Davis Legal Association.

An expunction is defined as an act of expunging a criminal record. In Texas, new state laws that went into effect in September, far more people qualify for such a legal remedy than those who actually use it.

"Less than five-percent of those who can take advantage of this relief, that’s expunctions and non-disclosures, actually do so," said district attorney Sharen Wilson.

Expunctions in Texas apply to those arrested but never charged and anyone whose case has been dismissed or they have been acquitted or pardoned. Non-disclosures apply to some low-level crimes where probation or fines were involved. To know if you quality, you typically have to speak with an attorney.

This Saturday, March 26, at Fort Worth ISD's Dunbar High School on Ramey Avenue, attorneys will be working pro-bono, for free, to first help determine if someone is eligible for an expunction or non-disclosure and then will help them file the paperwork.

One reason so few people work to get an expunction is the cost. Lawyer fees can run as much as $3,500, according to Gayden. And Tarrant County just last week approved reducing the filing fee for expunctions down to $400. The commissioners court will vote on non-disclosure filing fees on Tuesday. The fee reductions don't just apply for the Dunbar clinic, but to everyone from now on.

"We're trying to make it easier," said Commissioner Roy C. Brooks.

Brooks also made it clear that those who can't afford the fees will not be turned away.

"If you are indigent, then you don’t have to pay any of these filing fees," he said.

The idea behind the clinic is to get more people in the community working.

Job applications often require acknowledgments of criminal history and criminal background checks. The expunctions could remove issues from some searches and allow these individuals to find work again.

"Our goal is to basically put our parents back to work in this community," said Carlos Walker, Fort Worth ISD Historic Stop Six Initiative Director.

Walker says the inability for people with low-level offenses or mistakes on their records who qualify for expunctions to get jobs kept coming up in community meetings. After Saturday's expunction clinic, the initiative will hold a job fair in May.

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