LaRuby May is the D.C. councilmember for Ward 8.
Washington D.C. residents who have criminal records and reside in Ward 8 had the opportunity to clean the slate at an Expungement and Record Sealing Fair May 17 at the R.I.S.E.
Demonstration Center in Southeast. Initiated by Councilmember LaRuby May (D-Ward 8), the event attracted 500 residents, providing legal advice and guidance on how to adequately navigate through the records sealing process.
“We actually had to stop taking people, we stopped giving out numbers,” May told the AFRO. “This is a great opportunity to serve; this is what the Council does to bring in resources. ”
May began helping convicted residents with the District’s Youth Rehabilitation Act. She said her issue with the current law is when a person turns 22 their record is supposed to be sealed, but the records are often not. May said she also wants the government to take more responsibility in sealing the records. “It’s supposed to go through a three step process; the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Parole Commission, and a judge,” said Michael Austin, a legislative assistant under May. “There’s a disconnect. The problem with these agencies is they don’t communicate so they leave the burden on the youth. It should be more streamlined.”
According to the American Bar Association, a criminal record can restrict access to education, employment, public housing, student financial aid, welfare benefits, military service, and the right to vote. Expungement clears arrests and convictions of certain crimes. The sealing restricts the availability of records, but due to federal and state laws, it depends on the jurisdiction. Serious crimes that cannot be expunged anywhere are murder, kidnapping, sex crimes, terrorism, child endangerment, and treason. “We as a government have to stop being a barrier; there are misdemeanors that are barriers to employment and education, to broaden the scope of crimes that can be expunged,” May said.
Calvin, 39, who declined to give his last name, attended the fair. He is currently on probation. “I’ve got drug charges in Virginia, Maryland, and D.C.,” he said. “I’ve done four and a half years in a Maryland state prison and been out for nine months.” He said he was in an apprenticeship program where he learned sheet metal, but later applied to be an Uber driver and was turned down due to his criminal record. Calvin’s number to see an attorney was 362. “I’m willing to wait, I’m unemployed and need work,” he said.
As of March, the unemployment rate in Ward 8 was listed as 14.5, the highest in the District, according to the D.C. Department of Employment Services.
Residents received legal advice along with employment and food support from the Public Defender Service, Project Empowerment, Bread for the City, D.C. Law Students in Court, Department of Employment Service, Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, and several law firms. “Our residents who get expunged on their record will get a one shot deal, which is actually a motion that follows in court, and so our partners will deal with them and walk them through the process,” said May.