Community

A criminal record can prevent a person who has served time from fully participating in society. For some, it can mean not being able to get a job. And even though a new state law has been in effect for more than a year to help certain offenders clear their records, the fees associated with the process are a barrier for some.

To help with that, the nonprofit Louisville Urban League works with locals to expunge their records and partners with organization such as the Legal Aid Society Louisville, which provides free legal services. Now, with a $300,000 donation from Stephen Reily, the director of the Speed Art Museum and an Urban League board member, the organization aims to expand that program.

The program — dubbed the Reily Reentry Project — will give the Urban League $100,000 a year for the next three years, starting in 2018.

Urban League President and CEO Sadiqa Reynolds said next year, she hopes to fully clear 100 records with the first $100,000.

“We can’t always do everything for everybody, but the one that we help, it is a game-changer,” Reynolds said. “It changes their life, it changes the outcomes for their families.”

Reynolds emphasized that only certain crimes are eligible for expungement. That does not include murder or violent crimes.

Money Is A Barrier

In 2016, Kentucky passed a felony expungement law that allowed certain Class D felony convictions, such as prescription forgery and identity theft, to be expunged. State forms show that the filing fee for an application to vacate and expunge a felony conviction is $500 per case. The fee is $100 per misdemeanor case.

Money is a major reason some individuals who are eligible for expungement cannot pursue it, Reynolds said.

“It’s not a cheap process, by any stretch of the imagination,” she said.

The Urban League will use the Reily donation to cover legal fees, court costs, filing fees, records fees and more.

It’s hard to estimate how many records the Urban League will be able to clear, because many individuals have multiple charges, Reynolds said. Clearing each one comes with its own costs.

Reynold said this donation is is the largest her organization has gotten for this kind of work. Last year, Metro Council gave the Urban League a $10,000 grant for expungements, which the nonprofit used to help 34 people.

A Holistic Approach

Reynolds said people who participate in the Urban League’s workforce development programs and are unemployed or underemployed will get preference for the new Reily Reentry Project. She’s aiming for a holistic approach to help these people with everything from employment to finances to housing.

“What we are saying to people is, we are willing to pay. So if we’re going to spend money on you, then you are going to have to spend time with us,” Reynolds said. “Ultimately, we’re looking for better outcomes for families and that’s what the whole point of this is.”

Last week, the Urban League hosted an expungement workshop and got started on ten people’s cases, she said.

Reily said he hopes the donation will let the Urban League expand its current efforts and help as many people as possible.

“We need to let these people who have served their sentence, paid their price, take advantage of the law, the rights that were given them that they’re being held back from because they don’t have the money for it,” he said.

Reily added the measure of success for the program will be the number of lives impacted. He said offering economic hope to struggling families by clearing a path to employment could make a big difference.

“If we can start bringing hope to a single household, to a single block, impacting a hundred families is going to make a big difference in neighborhoods like Russell and Parkland and Shelby Park,” he said.

Amina Elahi is WFPL's City Reporter.