By Jean Lotus
More than 2,500 people attended the Cook County Adult and Juvenile Expungement Summit June 7, in Forest Park.
It was the 10th annual event taking place, hosted at Living Word Christian Center in the Forest Park Mall at 7600 Roosevelt Rd. Ex-offenders who qualify to work with volunteer attorneys were able to file petitions to seal their criminal records. This was the first time the summit took place in the western suburbs.
Record sealing means removes a criminal conviction from public access, though the information can still be seen by government bodies and police departments. An expunged record is wiped clean completely.
More than 300 adults and 25 juveniles started petitions for expungement at the summit, working with 164 volunteer attorneys, according to the Circuit Court of Cook County's press office.
Laws changed in the fall of 2013 for Illinois citizens with criminal convictions, said State Rep. La Shawn K. Ford, who sponsored Public Act 098-0142.
"After four years of having no run-ins with the law or arrests, you are entitled to petition the court for a sealing of your records," Ford said. "The courts rarely, if ever, turn anyone down who qualifies to have their records sealed."
It takes 90-120 days to expunge or seal a record.
Since 2000, the number of adult expungment petitions allowed by the courts has risen from about 6,100 to roughly 8,400 in 2013. The number of juvenile cases filed last year was just under 6,000.
Volunteer lawyers came from as far away as Wisconsin and Michigan to help with the summit. Other lawyers from Cabrini Green Legal Services were present, and 10 judges also volunteered.
For the ex-offenders, it's all about employability, Ford said. An ex-offender who can't get a job because of a long-past conviction on their record is a burden to society, taxpayers and at risk for recidivism, Ford maintains.
"The goal is to have the most qualified people in the work force. Once they have completed their sentences, they should have opportunities," Ford said.
A list of 200 national and local companies that hire ex-offenders was given to each summit participant, a list that included the city of Chicago, Walmart, Petco, and Jewel-Osco.
Felonies that can be sealed after four years include theft, retail theft, and burglary. Possession with intent to deliver, possession of stolen motor vehicle, and forgery also fall in that category. The fees are $120 for adults and $124 for juveniles per petition.
The event also featured an ex-offender job-information seminar.
Staff from Living Word's Joseph Business School gave presentations on setting achievable goals, job searching and resume writing.
Even if an ex-offender cannot qualify for expungement, he or she may qualify for a "certificate of good conduct" or "relief from disability."
These court-granted documents say that the offender, as a matter of law, is rehabilitated. This allows job applicants with a long history of staying out of trouble to apply for jobs with more stringent rules, such as schools, park districts and transit companies.
And a potential employer is protected from third-party lawsuits if an ex-offender has a certificate of good conduct. Certain convictions, such as a class X felony, any felony that resulted in physical harm, or a conviction for aggravated DUI or aggravated domestic battery, are not eligible.
Registered sex offenders and arsonists also do not qualify for a certificate of good conduct.
Jean Lotus is editor of Forest Park Review
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