Law to seal old crime records im­proves lives

New York Daily News - - NEWS - BY SHAYNA JA­COBS

It was a petty crime — mis­de­meanor at­tempted as­sault, which Kawna says was an act of self-de­fense when an­other woman jumped her in the Bronx while she was eight months preg­nant.

The stress sent her into early la­bor with her son, her first child, as she stood be­fore the judge in court.

Fi­nally, 25 years af­ter her guilty plea, Kawna — who asked her full name not be used — is putting her crime be­hind her, with help from the Le­gal Aid So­ci­ety and a yearold state law that will seal her record from po­ten­tial em­ploy­ers.

The ar­rest “was the only trou­ble I ever had,” said Kawna. But it caused decades of prob­lems for the 45-yearold mom of two.

Kawna moved to Vir­ginia five years af­ter the bust and jug­gled mul­ti­ple low-pay­ing jobs. She avoided job ap­pli­ca­tions that in­volved back­ground checks, “be­cause I al­ready know that I’m go­ing to get de­nied.”

But her back­ground was not a prob­lem when Kawna got her cur­rent gig as a school bus driver. That’s be­cause the decades-old con­vic­tion was sealed, with help of the Le­gal Aid So­ci­ety’s Case Closed pro­gram, which helps low-in­come peo­ple get their records wiped clean.

Of­fi­cials es­ti­mated last year 600,000 peo­ple could have their records sealed un­der New York’s law. But few have ap­plied for the pro­gram. As of Aug. 31, records of 549 peo­ple have been sealed statewide.

Man­hat­tan has the most seal­ings — 96 — fol­lowed by the Bronx at 44, Queens at 35 and Brook­lyn at 29. Three cases in Staten Is­land have been sealed since Oct. 7, 2017, when the law was en­acted.

Kawna is one of 29 Le­gal Aid So­ci­ety clients whose seal­ings are of­fi­cial.

“For the few peo­ple that are get­ting their records sealed, the tan­gi­ble and psy­cho­log­i­cal im­pact of seal­ing has been life-chang­ing,” said Emma Good­man, the lawyer who heads the Le­gal Aid So­ci­ety pro­ject. “It’s just in­cred­i­ble to see for the peo­ple that can ben­e­fit from this how dif­fer­ent their lives can be so quickly af­ter their records are sealed.”

Peo­ple ask­ing to seal their New York crim­i­nal records must have no more than two con­vic­tions, only one of which is a felony. Both con­vic­tions must be at least 10 years old. Vi­o­lent crimes and sex of­fenses are not el­i­gi­ble for the pro­gram.

State law pro­hibits em­ploy­ers from con­sid­er­ing a can­di­date’s crim­i­nal his­tory but ad­vo­cates say it’s rou­tine prac­tice.

An­other of Good­man’s clients, 52-year-old Richie, is a mar­ried dad of daugh­ters, ages 27 and 16. He deeply re­grets sell­ing crack-co­caine in 1993 — in his words, he was “just be­ing a knuck­le­head and do­ing some­thing I should have been out there do­ing.

“The con­vic­tion does not rep­re­sent who I am as a per­son and is a sig­nif­i­cant source of em­bar­rass­ment in my life,” Richie wrote in his ap­pli­ca­tion, which was granted in Brook­lyn Supreme Court.

Richie, a car­pen­ter who has worked a va­ri­ety of jobs, says he spends most of his time away from his kids in Delaware be­cause it’s eas­ier to get work in New York.

Dogged by his con­vic­tion, he be­came a life coach for Man Up! sev­eral years ago. He now warns young peo­ple about the headaches and heart­break con­vic­tions can cause. “It will hold you back in so many ways,” he said.

“It’s easy to get in trou­ble and it’s hard to get out.”

Mark, a 41-year-old main­te­nance worker from Flat­bush, has like­wise been bur­dened by a DWI from 2007 and a petty lar­ceny con­vic­tion 10 years be­fore that.

The mar­ried dad of three daugh­ters — whose old­est suf­fers from mul­ti­ple sclero­sis — be­lieves he was de­nied a job at a hos­pi­tal due to his record, which is now un­der seal.

“Now I can go out there and send my ré­sumé to ev­ery­body and feel con­fi­dent about it,” he said.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.