The expungement of criminal records for the benefit of previously homeless people in order to secure housing may seem straightforward enough. The non profit Utah Legal Services would beg to differ. A pilot program was conducted to establish the costs and pitfalls of expunging the criminal records of the chronic homeless, criminal records that can be insurmountable barriers to self sufficiency. Chronic homeless is defined as one year of homelessness or four periods of homelessness within three years along with a disabling condition.

Utah legal Services confirmed 26 out of 97 as eligible for pardons, criminal records expungement and charge reductions from Utah Pardons and Parole Board. Originally anticipated at a fast track brief scenario but turned in to a convoluted and involved process. This was down to a mix of unpaid fines and from prior convictions and/or to premature to petition the courts. Ineligibility to have criminal records expunged also hinged on too many convictions which was outside criteria. i.e. no more than 4.

However some individuals also had convictions such as a first degree and/or a violent felony which can’t be expunged. Other convictions barring them from expungement were homicide while behind the wheel of an automobile, a DUI and any offense of a sexual nature that required registration under the Kidnap Offender Registry or the States sex offender registry. As the $80,000 program unfolded it became evidently more complicated.

The program commenced with 88 possible clients in April 2014. Some individuals came with referrals from case workers at housing facilities. Grace Mary Manor, Sunrise Metro and Palmer Court amongst them. Other individuals were existing Utah Legal Services clients. The majority of the 88 though arrived from First Step House which serves outpatients and residents and offering treatment for substance abuse.

Petitions numbered 48 and have been filed along with 27 motions to reduce various charges, such as a class B misdemeanor towards an infraction. One pardon has also been sought. Utah Legal Services considered the program a resounding success as it provides a way forward and a glimpse in to the mechanics and costs of seeking pardons, reductions and expungements.

The expungement petitions granted totaled 28 along with 22 cases seeing a reduction of charges. A number of possible clients were ineligible due to a number of reasons such as pending criminal cases. A common thread for rejection was the amount of criminal records. Utah Legal Services now works with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families through a separate initiative. TANF is a public assistance program and federally funded, their aim is to assist poorer family units enjoy self sufficiency.
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