As May Day protests wind down, the issue of workers’ rights continues to linger in the public’s mind. Immigrant and LGBTQI+ worker rights were popular subjects this year, but an often overlooked issue is the immense hurdle a criminal record poses to individuals seeking employment.
Although campaigns like Ban the Box are working to limit the lasting impact of a criminal record, not all states have adopted this policy. This is problematic because helping individuals clear their criminal records can dramatically increase their chances of finding work. Unfortunately, many who qualify for expungement of their records or who may obtain clemency often do not have the financial means or knowledge required to begin the process. In response, Corporate Pro Bono Challenge® signatories across the country are providing pro bono legal assistance. For example:
- Allstate Insurance Company** has partnered with Cabrini Green Legal Aid (CGLA) to help CGLA staff expunge criminal records and generate clemency petitions. Allstate sends volunteers once a month to staff CGLA’s expungement and record-sealing help desk. In addition, recognizing that clemency is sometimes an individual’s last chance to clear their record when they are ineligible for expungement, Allstate started a clemency initiative with CGLA. Through this initiative, Allstate volunteers help clients prepare clemency petitions for the governor and provide representation at formal hearings in front of the Prisoner Review Board. Allstate volunteers have spent more than 1,000 hours on such matters and been successful in assisting six clients obtain clemency.
- Best Buy Co., Inc.** volunteers were the first to staff the Volunteer Lawyers Network’s (VLN) criminal expungement clinic in 2004. Since then, 3M Company** has joined the effort and volunteers from both companies staff the pro se expungement clinic twice a month. Volunteers create narratives explaining how their clients are negatively impacted by the public nature of their past records.
- Discover Financial Services** volunteers attend a free legal services clinic in the Woodlawn neighborhood in the south side of Chicago and serve low-income residents of this neighborhood and the surrounding area in a multitude of ways, including expungement of criminal records, receiving public benefits, and child support. Since first volunteering, over 20 Discover lawyers and 10 non-lawyers have committed over 200 hours to the clinic.
- Ford Motor Company** attorneys participate in the Legal Aid and Defender Association expungement clinic, helping clients prepare the documentation needed to begin the process of expungement and handling any pleadings and hearings involved in obtaining an expungement on behalf of their clients. To encourage their attorneys’ commitment to pro bono work, Ford has at least four Accelerated Action Days that provide their employees with opportunities to partake in volunteer work; often one of the four Accelerated Action Days focuses on supplying clients with the documentation necessary for expungement.
- Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company ** has paired up with Project Homeless Connect’s (PHC) and staffs its legal and ID clinic to assist homeless individuals clear their criminal records, apply for a California ID, and much more.
- United Continental Holdings, Inc.** also partners with CGLA and provides volunteers for CGLA’s expungement help desk located at the Daley Center in Chicago. In addition, United volunteers represent clients at live calling hearings for expungement and take the first 25 clients signed up at the help desk. Through its partnership with CGLA, United volunteers have achieved a 90 percent success rate in expunging records.
Due to the wonderful work of these companies, many low-income ex-offenders have been able to improve their chances of finding employment. A criminal record can prove a significant barrier for individuals seeking to establish stable and productive lives, which is why campaigns like Ban the Box and the pro bono work supporting expungement and clemency are so essential.
Hat tip to PBI intern Kelsey Muniz for his help with this post.
** denotes a Corporate Pro Bono Challenge® signatory