Having a criminal record makes it difficult to find a job in Louisiana. Many companies won't hire an applicant who has so much as an arrest without a conviction, and the state makes expunging those records difficult and confusing.
That's why the Justice and Accountability Center
of Louisiana (JAC) started Clean Jacket Day
in 2013. Clean Jacket Day, which will take place again Saturday, Nov. 8 at Christian Unity Baptist Church (1700 Conti St.) from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., invites anyone who has been incarcerated, arrested, acquitted or who has completed probation, to be interviewed to begin the process of expungement. Expungement removes a record from public access so that first-time offenders can resume their lives (most violent crimes and some drug offenses are not eligible). After the interviews, JAC founders Ameca REali and Adrienne K. Wheeler spend the next few months going through the records and determining which ones can be expunged.
David Marcello, executive director of Tulane University's Public Law Center
, says last year Clean Jacket Day served more than 500 people with the help of 100 volunteers. Its mission is to help people directly, but also to advocate for more comprehensive expungement laws.
"It's a combination of both direct services and efforts to change matters systemically, to improve the text of expungement laws," says Marcello. "Surrounding states have actually done a better job of that than we have in Louisiana. Texas would be a good example. They've made it somewhat easier for people to get expungements, and it certainly works to the advantage of their residents."
Marcello says the state has made an effort to make expungement laws more cohesive, beginning with judges, who wanted to create a single form to consolidate the arduous process. The judges concluded, however, after looking at the laws, that they were too disparate to create one single form. "Over the years, some things had found their way onto a list for which expungement would be doable, and other things had found their way onto a list for which expungement was not doable," he says. "And there was no great coherence between one and another. You might have relatively innocuous issues that, because of the time which they had been added, made it difficult to get the expungement done."
Last year, state lawmakers, with help from the Louisiana Law Institute
, made some improvements to the laws, but Marcello says it wasn't enough. "If you don't have an organized system where your minor offenses are grouped here, your more serious offenses are there, and your very serious ones in a third category, you're going to be hopelessly stomping around in the swamp," he says.
In 2011, Reali and Wheeler founded the JAC to address deficiencies in the post-conviction phases of the criminal justice system. With the assistance of Loyola University law professor Judson Mitchell, the group has also created an app that gives users an evaluation of whether their records are eligible for expungement, and directs them to a nearby attorney for help.
Marcello adds that not only do expungements help people make necessary changes to improve their lives, they also lend a hand to the state's economic development efforts. "People competing for a job at a Burger King in Lake Charles or Monroe or any of the cities that might be near a border of the state, will be at a severe disadvantage," he says. "If you just want to look at it through an economic development lens, it really is very much in the interest of Louisiana to rationalize and make more sensible expungement laws."
Those seeking expungement services Saturday should bring all relevant paperwork with them.