The Athens-Clarke County Courthouse shines in the morning light on Monday, Feb. 18, 2019, in Athens, Georgia. (Photo/Gabriella Audi, www.gabbyaudi10.wixsite.com/mysite-1)

One of the first people at Athens-Clarke County’s first arrest record restriction event was a 60-year-old woman who was able to secure a higher paying job after expunging her record of a shoplifting charge from when she was 17, ACC Solicitor General C.R. Chisholm said.

On Nov. 2, from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., individuals who have been arrested in ACC have the opportunity to restrict their criminal record from being viewed online.

The solicitor general’s office will host its third arrest record restriction event at First African Methodist Episcopal Church on North Hull Street. The event is free of charge, but individuals must bring a valid Georgia I.D. or U.S. photo I.D.

“We’re hoping to take down those barriers a little bit,” Chisholm said. “By doing that it can help people who are running up against some barriers for jobs, loans and housing because of something on their criminal history.”

To be eligible for expungement, the arrest must have been made by either ACC Police Department, University of Georgia PD or the Clarke County Sheriff’s Office. Only misdemeanor charges will be taken into consideration, and the charges must not be pending or have resulted in a conviction.

As of Oct. 31, 72 people registered for the event.

“By doing the restriction event, it educates the community that criminal records for some charges can be restricted to public access, and there are people who don’t know that information,” Chisholm said.

A record restriction is the same as an expungement, according to Chisholm, who explained that there has been a misconception about expungement. People thought charges were “completely invisible to everyone and as if it never happened. That was not true,” Chisholm said.

“The legislature changed the terminology to ‘restriction’ because that’s all expungement ever did was restrict access to criminal histories,” Chisholm said.

Following a record restriction, certain law enforcement and criminal justice agencies can still view a person’s criminal history, but most employers will not see it, Chisholm said.

The event is free of charge, and free legal counsel is provided by local attorneys from the public defender’s office and those in private practice who volunteer their time. Georgia Justice Project and UGA Law School students will also help with the event, Chisholm said.

UGA School of Law professor Elizabeth Grant wants students in her Public Interest Practicum to witness recent changes in the law that increased access to record restrictions.

“My clinic deals with civil legal questions, not criminal legal questions, but when somebody has a criminal record that often holds them back from getting employment or housing, so there are civil consequences to criminal arrests,” Grant said.

Grant’s interest inspired her to approach Chisholm to start a record restriction event in ACC, and Chisholm agreed.

About three of Grant’s students in her practicum work at the record restriction event every semester. The event acts as a service projects for the students.

“My students take a look at the criminal histories and make notes that the lawyers then use to counsel people when they come to the event,” Grant said. “They take a lot of administrative work off of the volunteer lawyers.”

Grant’s students also examine a person’s entire criminal history to check if they are eligible for an additional court motion. The students are certified under Georgia’s Student Practice Act, which allows them to talk with some of the participants.

Grant explained that her students are able to gain valuable experience from helping with the event.

“If a student is interested in how criminal law and civil law interact with each other, they really learn that very well,” Grant said. “As young lawyers, it’s really helpful for them to see how different stakeholders can come together to address a particular problem.”

The solicitor general’s office has also added a job fair to the event since its creation. The attendees at the record restriction event are mostly in their mid 20’s to mid 30’s “trying to get a job or trying to get a better job,” Chisholm said. He added that the most common misdemeanor charges they see are shoplifting and other theft-related offenses.

Chisholm said they hope to help provide better access to those looking for employment, housing and loans.

“All those things are ingredients for stability,” Chisholm said. “When we have stability, we see less recidivism.”

The registration period closed on Oct. 31.

Correction: Georgia Justice Project was incorrectly identified as Georgia Legal Services in a previous version of this article. The Red & Black regrets this error, and it has since been fixed.

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