News

LSIC’s Expungement Day Gives Hope to Hundreds of D.C. Residents

By Jeffery Leon

November 22, 2017

When the D.C. Law Students in Court (LSIC) hosted its first Expungement Day on October 23, over 30 local attorneys and law students showed up and were paired with more than 300 District residents seeking expungement of criminal records. The event, held at the Department of Employment Services in Northeast D.C. during National Pro Bono Week, was hosted in collaboration with the Mayor’s Office on Returning Citizen Affairs.

“We identified a real need for these services; there was a dearth of options in the city,” says Michael Barfield, LSIC supervising attorney and founder of the Expungement Clinic. “People seeking expungement could either go to the Public Defender Service, which [takes] a limited number of expungement clients each year, or hire a private attorney, most of whom charge hundreds to thousands of dollars. We saw the need, had law students and pro bono partners we could leverage to provide the services, and started providing them.”

The Expungement Clinic began in the fall of 2015 and is focused on low-income D.C. residents. LSIC volunteers work with clients to review their records, determine their eligibility, and assign attorneys to help them request expungement of their arrest records, which can pose a serious barrier for people who are trying to find a job, get housing, or continue their education.

“Many people don’t realize that whether they are arrested, charged, or convicted, they have a permanent arrest record,” says Barfield. “Although D.C. has a law commonly known as Ban the Box, which prohibits most employers [from] inquiring about your criminal history until after you’ve received a job offer, we’ve found that employers will make an offer, provisionally hire someone, but then do a background check and fire the person a week later. It’s tremendously demoralizing for people who are trying to do the right thing to provide for their families, but cannot get past these anachronistic laws.”

Kathryn Boothe, LSIC’s Criminal Division director and pro bono coordinator agrees. “Once people have repaid their debts to society, they should not continue to be held back by a record. We have clients who are still held back in so many areas by something they were convicted of 30 years ago.”

In addition to the over 300 people served by LSIC volunteers during Expungement Day, some 100 individuals were waitlisted. LSIC coordinated with local nonprofits to table the next clinic, with vendors such as Jubilee Jobs, So Others Might Eat, and Samaritan Ministries helping attendees to take their next step.

“The Expungement [Clinic] doesn’t just impact our clients, but the financial health and moral well-being of our entire community,” says Jason Saunders, communications and development director of LSIC. “These people are members of a larger community, and their success would aid the success of their schools, families, friends, and neighborhoods.”

“It’s an intense experience, because you have hundreds of people who are here looking for help to move beyond the stigma of an arrest record,” Boothe says of what it was like serving clients on Expungement Day. “Knowing that these people are looking for hope, it’s intense but extremely rewarding to help them move forward.”

LSIC is continuing to seek more attorneys to assist in its expungement clinics, which runs year-round and conducts regular intakes with partner social service and job training organizations, and also by email and phone.

“You can volunteer for an intake, take on your own client with help and supervision from our attorneys along the way, or draft an expungement motion in four to five hours,” Barfield says. “It’s a discreet pro bono commitment that makes a tremendous positive impact on someone’s life.”

For more information on LSIC’s Expungement Clinic, visit dclawstudents.org.