Linn County hosted the largest Expungement Clinic ever in the state of Iowa on September 22, 2018. A total of 166 people pre-registered for the clinic, which was co-sponsored by Linn County, the City of Cedar Rapids and Iowa Legal Aid and aimed to help people involved with the criminal justice system overcome barriers to housing, employment and education.
Through Iowa Legal Aid, volunteer attorneys licensed by the State of Iowa assisted eligible attendees with issues related to expungement, court debt, drivers’ licenses and vehicle registration and voting rights.
The clinic also provided attendees with access to community organizations and resources for financial planning, transportation, housing and other related topics. Community partners included Horizons Family Services, Affordable Housing Network, LIFTS, Area Substance Abuse Council, Linn County General Assistance, IowaWorks, American Civil Liberties Union, the League of Women Voters and Linn County Veteran Affairs.
Alex Kornya, a staff attorney with Iowa Legal Aid who helped organize the Expungement and Resource Barriers Clinic, noted not every record is eligible for expungement. However, the clinic helped all attendees with some aspect of their situation that will make their lives better and take a step toward removing barriers.
“Criminal justice involvement can make it almost impossible to find a job or housing. The mere fact that someone has a criminal record can often lead employers or landlords to discard that person’s application out of hand, often without considering how old the case is or the individual circumstances of the person’s situation. Without a job, housing becomes a real challenge,” Kornya said.
This was the 11th expungement clinic for Iowa Legal Aid in just over a year and the first one in Linn County. The clinic was spearheaded by Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker and stems from recommendations of the Safe, Equitable, and Thriving Communities Task Force report.
“The problems resulting from interacting with our criminal justice system are vast and stay with individuals for years. They comprise a series of challenges I refer to as ‘invisible problems,’ because they remain relatively unacknowledged by many policymakers and community leaders who can actually bring about change. We must attend to these invisible problems now, if we hope to maintain a prosperous community for future generations,” Walker said.
Walker hopes to hold additional expungement clinics in Linn County in the future.
A Look at Clinic Registrants by the Numbers:
- 166 people pre-registered for the Expungement and Resource Barriers Clinic
- Over 1/3 were women
- 87 percent have been denied housing or employment because of their criminal record
- Over half have had their wages garnished, tax returns withheld, or threatened with jail due to unpaid court debt and jail fees