Wake County sees huge response to expungement program

RALEIGH (WTVD) -- Word has spread like wildfire through Wake County about the new expungement program. Even the Wake County District Attorney is a bit blown away by the sheer number of local residents lining up for the opportunity to clear their old criminal record.

For many, it's a second chance at a better life. Tuesday night, Brian Bunn was one of the first in line.

"Actually, I heard some people talking about (the expungement program) on the bus," Bunn said.

And after a quick Google search, Brian found his way to Raleigh's Torchlight Academy Charter School, which was hosting pre-registration for the county's new initiative to help residents get their criminal records expunged.

Last week, 1,000 people showed up. Tonight, hundreds more stood in a line that stretched out the door.

Bunn says he's stayed out of trouble for the past 16 years. But, the criminal offense on his record remains. So, for Bunn and many others here, a better job or better housing is out of reach.

"It makes you feel less of a person when you can't find a job. And it's just hard, it's very hard," Bunn said.

Wake DA Lorrin Freeman says she pitched the idea several months ago to community partners and local lawyers willing to volunteer their time to walk residents through the complicated expungement process.

"Our state law says that people who fit certain criteria are entitled to a second chance," Freeman said about the program which offers a chance to clear criminal low-level offenses committed as a minor or more than 15 years ago from a resident's record.

The DA, who spends her days working to put criminals behind bars, argues a shot at a second chance is about public safety, too. She believes it's an effort to stabilize communities.

"We know that people who are able to take advantage of educational opportunities and employment opportunities are less likely to re-offend."

Not everyone who showed up to pre-register will be eligible for expungement. Organizers try to manage expectations.

"I do want to say, it is not going to happen overnight," Diana Powell told a group of registrants. Powell's group, Justice Served NC, is one of several community partners working with the D-A's office to find eligible residents.

Despite the odds, Brian Bunn left the event with newfound hope.

"This is definitely a blessing," Bunn said. "I need this in my life."

The District Attorney's s deadline to have residents registered for the expungement program is this Friday, Sept. 30. Volunteers are trying to squeeze in more events this week, to meet the overwhelming demand.

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