The city’s Law Department plans to offer thousands of attendees at an upcoming employment convention downtown the chance to clear many types of arrests and convictions—or at least kick off the process of doing so—through an expungement clinic.
Mayor Catherine Pugh and others announced details about the intiative at her weekly press conference today. It’ll be offered at the upcoming WorkBaltimore convention downtown on Sept. 26 and 27.
“It is no exaggeration, as we all know, to say that the existence of criminal justice records about an individual poses one of the most formidable barriers to employment,” said City Solicitor Andre Davis, who helms the Law Department.
In an email Wednesday, Davis noted city attorneys have volunteered with other organizations’ expungement clinics in the past, “but this is the first effort actually spearheaded by the Law Department.” He plans to keep the initiative going post-convention, making it “an ongoing part of our pro bono offerings for Law Department lawyers,” he said.
While “Ban the Box” initiatives have helped many applicants at least get their foot in the door by not being forced to disclose their criminal history on a job application, Davis pointed out that those same applicants are often (though not always) cut later on in a hiring round after their legal history arises in a background check.
It’s unknown how many Baltimoreans are carrying criminal records, but for some context, the Abell Foundation says 10,000 people leave prison and re-enter society in Baltimore each year, and the unemployment rate among those released remains over 50 percent after three years of them being out.
Expungement, a legal process that removes information about one’s criminal record from court and law enforcement records, can help give them a clean slate when it comes to finding work. A number of organizations or programs, including Maryland Legal Aid, the Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service and the University of Maryland’s Clinical Law department, offer free assistance with the process to people with criminal records, facilitating expungement of simple cases or advising them on how to clear more complex ones. Not all cases are eligible, but common offenses like prior drug possession charges often fit the bill, and many crimes can be expunged after a specified number of years have passed.
Pugh said the United Way of Central Maryland and the city collaborated on an event assisting homeless individuals last year in which the nonprofit helped local residents expunge their records–the organization said in an email that it helped 71 people expunge more than 400 cases in total–and the city wanted to “emulate” the organization’s offering of that resource at this year’s convention.
The Law Department will partner with other private and government attorneys for its clinic this month. “We’re gonna have a process that people will be able to do self help on their expungement if it’s a very simple matter,” Davis said. They’ll also refer those with more complicated cases to other lawyers.
There will be two dozen vendors at the convention offering various types of resources to job seekers, Quinton Herbert, interim director for the city’s Department of Human Resources, said today. Eighty-six employers will be there—he highlighted BGE, Johns Hopkins, H&S Bakery and LifeBridge Health, among a couple others—looking to fill more than 300 jobs.
More than 1,000 people have pre-registered for the convention already, Herbert said. “We’re anticipating a large crowd, and we’re anticipating filling those 300-plus positions.”