August 3, 2015

Program seeks to expunge criminal records of Utah's chronically homeless

8-3-15 Utah:

SALT LAKE CITY — On its face, expunging the criminal records of formerly homeless people to help them obtain housing and jobs seemed simple enough.

But getting there turned out to be a complicated process, said Amy Powers, staff attorney for the nonprofit law office Utah Legal Services. It conducted a pilot program to determine the costs and challenges of wiping clean the criminal records of former chronically homeless people, to remove what can be crippling obstacles to become self-sufficient.

The chronically homeless are people who have experienced homelessness longer than one year or four episodes of homelessness in three years and they have a disabling condition.

According to a Utah Legal Services, 26 clients among a total of 97 were eligible to seek expungement, reduction of charges or pardons from the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole.

"Because it was a pilot, it wasn't really known how quickly this could get done. It was hoped it could be a fast-track kind of process, just a few weeks, maybe," said Powers.

The process turned out to be far more involved than anyone had anticipated. Some people were ineligible for expungement because they had unpaid fines from previous convictions or it was too soon for them to petition courts. Others were not eligible because they had more convictions than allowed by law to seek expungement.

"With the statute the way it is, you can only have four total convictions or less," she said.

Some people had been convicted of criminal offenses that, under Utah law, cannot be expunged, such as first-degree felonies or violent felonies, automobile homicide, felony driving under the influence or sex offenses that require registration on the state's Sex Offender and Kidnap Offender Registry.

"We knew there would be some complications, but it became a whole lot more complicated than we thought," said Lloyd Pendleton, who proposed and oversaw the $80,000 demonstration project while director of Utah's Homeless Task Force. ..Continue.. by Marjorie Cortez

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