Non-profit helps ex-offenders get a fresh start

(Last Updated On: January 7, 2015)

Restoring Lives

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For more than three decades, Mary Taylor has poured her life into revitalizing and beautifying the community in the North Houston community where she resides. Founder of Beautification & Restoration Volunteers, Inc., she has advocated for everything from street lights to landscaping improvements to construction of a local YMCA in her under-served community. Taylor has committed her life to making a difference and now has her sights set on uplifting and restoring lives.

Founder of The Expunge Program, a 501c3 nonprofit launched in September 2011, 74-year-old Taylor is spearheading an effort to help individuals with criminal records get a fresh start.

A native of Shreveport, La., Taylor started the program after hearing more and more people share their challenges finding jobs because of past criminal offenses on their records.

“I heard so many people in the community talk about how they couldn’t get jobs because they had been locked up,” says Taylor.

A research report commissioned by the Department for Work and Pensions and conducted by the National Institute for Economic and Social Research, indicates unemployment is high among some groups of people with criminal records.

The first section of the report, entitled “Barriers to Employment for Offenders and Ex-offenders,” co-written by Hilary Metcalf, Tracy Anderson and Heather Rolfe, found that individuals on probation face numerous barriers in finding employment, including discrimination from employers, health challenges, substance abuse, housing problems and homelessness.  Other issues include lack of self-confidence and lack of motivation to engage in the job search.

Knowledge of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (1974), among recruitment officers surveyed in the report, was cited as “poor” with “no more than 18% of recruitment conducted by people with “a reasonable knowledge of the Act.”

Researchers also concluded from the information gathered that criminal records are often used in a discriminatory way by recruiters.

In response to the concerns voiced by numerous ex-offenders, Taylor pondered and prayed and then took action to do something to help.

“I heard so many people in the community talk about how they couldn’t get jobs because they had been locked up,” says Taylor.

She contacted the Harris County District Attorney’s office to arrange to have attorneys come out to speak at the non-profit’s monthly meetings, held at the Acres Home Multi-Purpose Center.

During the meetings, attorneys shared information with program participants on the conditions that allow criminal records to be expunged.Scott Durfee, assistant general counsel of the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, along with Assistant District Attorney Brian Rose, also took part in the organization’s educational outreach.

“One cannot take advantage of the expunction right if one doesn’t know it exists.  To remedy that, [Taylor] recruited myself and Brian Rose to speak at community meetings about the law of expunction and the circumstances under which it is available,” says Durfee of the group’s beginnings.

Durfee commends Taylor for her enthusiasm and efforts in initiating the program.

“Expunctions are a valuable statutory remedy for those individuals who unjustly carry the stigma of an arrest record that did not result in conviction or deferred adjudication,” says Durfee.

“For individuals who successfully complete deferred adjudication, expunctions are not available, but the supervising judge may order the arrest records sealed from public view,” Durfee says.

While educating ex-offenders on the current conditions for expunctions, Taylor also aims to change and enhance the laws so more criminal offenses are eligible to be cleared.

“I couldn’t believe that they would keep a person in the penitentiary for all this time and won’t allow those who are trying to make a fresh start expunge their records,” says Taylor.

According to Taylor, something as simple as making a guilty plea hinders individuals from getting an expunction.

“We wanted to know those things that can and cannot be expunged, so that we know what we have to work with right now. Our next goal is to get with the state representatives and congressmen and the  Governor,” says Taylor.

She encourages individuals in the community to write letters to push for changes in the law to allow more expunctions.  She and members of her nonprofit, also plan to travel to Austin in the near future.

But more is needed, says Taylor.

She hopes to collaborate with local attorneys willing to assist the nonprofit in helping Expunge Program participants with the expunction process on a pro bono basis until the organization is able to raise funds to assist participants with legal expenses.

Since its launch, the nonprofit has been able to help a small number of participants expunge their records or begin the process, which Taylor calls, “just the beginning.”

“People are coming from all parts of Houston to our meetings because they want their records cleared,” says Taylor.

Taylor also plans to help individuals with the job search process through the nonprofit.

“We just want to treat people as human beings and to make a difference, so lives can be uplifted and people can get a fresh start,” says Taylor.

For more information, contact Mary Taylor at 281-445-0682.

A Look at the Law:

Under Texas law (Chapter 55 of the Code of Criminal Procedure), the following circumstances may justify expunction of an arrest record:

· The arrest did not result in the filing of criminal charges and the investigation is no longer active.

· The arrest resulted in the filing of criminal charges, but the charges were dismissed pursuant to a request by the government.

· The arrest resulted in the filing of criminal charges, but the defendant was acquitted at trial or on appeal.

· A grand jury declined to indict the defendant after arrest.

· The statute of limitations has expired on the charge for which the defendant was arrested and he was not convicted or acquitted and the case is no longer pending.

· The defendant was convicted, but thereafter pardoned.

Under Texas law, the following circumstances do not support expunction:

· The defendant was fined, jailed, or sent to the penitentiary.

· The defendant was placed on any kind of probation except for a Class C misdemeanor deferred adjudication probation, or a pretrial diversion program.

· The defendant’s case or investigation is still pending and the statute of limitations has not passed.

 

For an overview of the sealing process, http://app.dao.hctx.net/OurOffice/FAQs/4/Other_Divisions/7/Deferred_Adjudication.aspx