Criminal Justice Reform Must Include Civil Legal Aid

As our country moves toward reversing decades of overly harsh sentences for non-violent crimes and mandatory "three strikes" life sentences, criminal justice reform packages must also incorporate civil legal aid for those newly released from prison.

Blog Post (NATIONAL)

Lonnie A. Powers
Huffington Post
December 2, 2015

Tags: Criminal Justice, Expungement / Record Sealing

Organizations mentioned/involved: Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC), Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS)


Civil legal assistance is necessary to help avoid the stigma associated with having a criminal record, which can be devastating to people trying to rebuild their lives after a period of incarceration; it’s well known that having a criminal record is a serious obstacle to employment. Background checks are sometimes necessary for the safety and security of the workplace, but many employers refuse to consider anyone with a criminal record (even though such blanket practices violate civil rights laws).

Worse, those in Boston affected most by these policies come from the city’s communities of color, where rates of incarceration―as they are nationwide―are much higher than among white populations. Meanwhile, the existence of a criminal record can mask existing racism by giving employers an excuse not to hire an otherwise qualified applicant.

Civil legal aid can help those with a criminal record navigate the complicated process of expunging or sealing their records. Expunging a record means that the record is destroyed and, for all intents and purposes, never existed in the first place. If someone has been the victim of identity theft and a criminal record exists with their name, a judge may order that the record be changed so that their name is replaced with “Jane Doe” or “John Doe.” Juvenile arrest records that are kept by police, and abuse prevention orders obtained under fraudulent circumstances are also eligible for expungement.