Evanston, nonprofit continue partnership to expunge records of residents with criminal pasts

Paige Leskin, City Editor

City officials will continue to give residents with criminal records the opportunity to enter the workforce with a clean slate.

Aldermen approved Monday a renewal of an agreement with the James B. Moran Center for Youth Advocacy. The agreement, which will enter its second year, sets aside $30,000 in Community Development Block Grant funding to provide youth and young adults in Evanston with services and resources to become employable again, said Joe McRae, the city’s deputy city manager.

Through the work of the Moran Center’s legal workers and the city’s outreach team in the youth and young adults division, people with criminal histories are essentially able to clear their records, said the center’s executive director Kathy Lyons.

“A lot times, if you have any kind of record at all it’s like, ‘Don’t even apply,’ because we can’t look at someone with a criminal record,” Lyons said. “You’re never going to get past the application stage.”

Participants, who are identified by the city’s outreach team, are given the opportunity to secure a certificate of rehabilitation, which can seal or expunge a person’s records, Lyons said. People who have been convicted of serious and violent crimes, including aggravated offenses and those that require registration after release from prison, are not eligible for the program.

Obtained from the Circuit Court of Cook County, the certificates are able to lift barriers to jobs, licenses and other services that may exist. The costs for the process of expunging records and securing the certificates can cost around $3,300 per person, according to a memo sent to Council on Monday.

With the elimination of criminal charges, people can become eligible for work in the healthcare industry or acquire jobs that need professional licenses, like barbers and cosmetologists, Lyons said.

“It’s another way of helping people eliminate the barriers that a criminal record can present,” she said. “We believe in second chances, but we also believe that people should be able to move beyond when they’ve done their time and changed their life and on a path to try to become successful and independent.”

Although the Moran Center’s volunteer and staff attorneys are responsible for doing the legal work to expunge the records, the city’s outreach workers are the ones who identify people in the community who could benefit from the program, McRae said.

The city draws from its “opportunity youth,” the at-risk young people who have become “disengaged and disaffected,” said Kevin Brown, the city’s youth and young adult program manager.

“It’s actually a crime-reduction strategy and a youth-violence-prevention strategy,” he said. “When they qualify for these on-the-job training programs and programs that will help to improve their employability, it makes for a better community.”

The city’s program, in partnership with the center, is designed to coincide with the city’s collaboration with the Youth Job Center to find employment opportunities for residents, Brown said.

Called “Building Career Pathways to Sustainable Employment Program,” the program allows for those who have their records expunged to then be connected with staff who can provide them with the proper resources to establish a job.

“This is just one piece of a holistic approach to help our youth and young adults,” McRae said. “It gives individuals another opportunity to recover from maybe a mistake they had made and to be able to be employable again and to pursue a job, to pursue a potential career that will allow them to be productive citizens.”

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