DOBBINS HEIGHTS – The Dobbin Heights Community Center welcomed residents from all over Richmond County into its doors Tuesday for the last expungement clinic of the year.
The clinic started at 2:30 p.m. with personnel on hand to work with attendees to begin the process to a better life.
The clinic, presented by Legal Aid of North Carolina, in partnership with the Former Offender Initiative and NCWorks Career Center of Richmond County, consisted of a live webcast presentation on what type of convictions can be expunged.
A question-and-answer session followed the video, and attendees were given an opportunity to complete a registration form to apply for Legal Aid services.
Regina Smalls, who is the NCWorks Career Center manager, spoke of the importance of getting records expunged and taking advantage of the opportunity.
“Please do it, if you feel you are eligible,” Smalls said. “Take advantage of this opportunity. A lot of employers aren’t very forgiving, as we all know, so don’t wait.”
Criminal background screenings are becoming a norm rather than an exception, according to a human resource article written by Pamela Mack, a senior business development manager. According to the article, Mack says most employers view someone with a criminal background as a liability. Therefore, they will not take the risk by hiring that person, even if they are qualified for the job, especially since negligent hiring is a rising problem in many businesses today.
The key to eligibility of expungement in North Carolina unlocks with two words: “first” and “non-violent.” One can seek expungement for a crime if it is a first-time, nonviolent conviction. There are other factors to consider, like age stipulations and wait times depending on the context of the conviction, in determining eligibility. Also, whether the crime was a misdemeanor or a felony, has to be taken into consideration when pondering if the crime is eligible or not.
Dr. Carlotta Knotts, Director of Student Retention and Intervention at Richmond Community College, provided a teachable moment and also encouraged the attendees to seize the opportunity of applying for Legal Aid assistance.
“Please go watch the film, ‘Release’,” she said. “It focuses on the challenges of transitioning back into society after being released from prison. Our community is disproportionately represented in the prison system of America, and this is an opportunity to challenge that norm.
“I am challenging you to make a change in your life and to do something that can impact your whole family for the better,” Knotts continued. “We are here to help.”
This is the first year that NCWorks partnered with Legal Aid of North Carolina, and has conducted these clinics throughout the state.
Smalls spoke with satisfaction about the outcome of the event.
“Anytime you get a fully registered class before the day of the event and max out at the number of enrollees you intended to come, it’s a successful day, “ Smalls said. “There were about 30 people in attendance.”
The biggest piece of information gathered from this workshop, is the law is changing on December 1, which is why this is the last clinic of the year.
One of the biggest changes happening is that for charges that have been dismissed, they will be granted an unlimited amount of expungements. The previous law only allowed for one expungement in a person’s lifetime.
Mike Westray, Regional Former Offender Specialist, only has one wish for the NC law surrounding expungement.
“I wish it [expungement] was available for both violent and nonviolent crimes,” Westray said. “The same discriminatory actions are happening even once the time has been served and their released back into society. What do they do to make their situation better?”
Dobbins Heights Mayor Antonio Blue, also in attendance, expressed gratitude that they can offer a facility to provide these type of services.
“The community center is here for the community,” Blue said. “These are the type of programs we like to sponsor for the betterment of the individual, and for the building of the community.”
Legal Aid of North Carolina offers services based off of income levels. For more information on the North Carolina Expungement Law and legal services, please contact Legal Aid toll-free at 1-866-219-5262 or at www.ncsecondchance.org.