Is Expungement Necessary?
Here at Soteria, we see the ways in which a criminal record can haunt returning citizens. There are significant implications that plague every returning citizen in our program. Before we consider whether expungement is “right” or not, we first need to define it. Expungement is a court-ordered process in which the legal record of an arrest or a criminal conviction is “sealed,” or erased in the eyes of the law. As soon as a judge orders for a criminal charge to be expunged, all agencies within the state that have any record or evidence of the crime must destroy it. The FBI will always keep a record, but employers and other people within the state will not be notified of the record during background checks. As it currently stands, in South Carolina if you commit a felony as an adult but later become a productive citizen, you will always be labeled as a criminal according to your arrest record.
Some experts estimate citizens with criminal records could face up to 50,000 legally-mandated collateral consequences, including restrictions on housing, employment, public benefits, and immigration. These are all barriers that could lead a person right back to prison if they do not have the resources to overcome these challenges. Non-expungement laws make it especially hard to secure employment, housing, and transportation during this challenging transition time in a person’s life (which is why Soteria focuses on providing these services). I believe that most crimes should be expunged after a person has served their time and proven to society that they are ready to change and be a productive citizen. Until these changes come about, Soteria will continue to aid returning citizens in the process of rebuilding their lives and overcoming these barriers.