Free legal help, new toolkit can help people clear their past criminal convictions

People who are trying to turn their lives around and take advantage of our state's new Second Chance Act often face a dilemma.

Their old criminal record can keep them in poverty, and they can't afford an attorney to help them clear that record and get a second chance.

But a Durham non-profit has just launched a free service that can guide them through the process.

"We have a Clean Slate Toolkit that was just released. I've been working on it for a few months, and it's basically a step-by-step guide to assist people that can't hire an attorney," Chantel Cherry-Lassiter told ABC 11.

She is an attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice in Durham and the architect of the Clean Slate Toolkit.

Recently she saw our story about a Wake County man who's criminal conviction at 16 haunted him for more than 30 years even though he never committed another crime.

"A lot of those stories are out there. And it is like a scarlet letter. You make this mistake, you have a situation, and it just haunts you forever," Cherry-Lassiter said adding that she was glad to learn that man is now taking advantage of the Second Chance Act.

The new law makes it easier for people to have their records erased--records that can be a huge handicap Cherry-Lassiter noted saying, "You're limited with job opportunities. Sometimes preventing you from obtaining good housing, loans, just so many things from one mistake."

The online Clean Slate Toolkit provides simple step-by-step instructions on clearing your record.

But the help doesn't end there according to Cherry-Lassiter who said, "If anybody needs extra assistance they can reach out to us and we can kind of walk them through the process."

Still, Cherry-Lassiter pointed out, a second chance is often just a first step.

"They can have this off of their record but there's certain things and talents and skills and confidence that they need to rebuild," she said.

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice can also direct people to other resources they may need to help them turn their life around.

Helping people turn their lives around also helps the rest of us, according to Cherry-Lassiter.

"The more people we have employed is better for the economy. And it's better for society as a whole," she said, "It will bring the crime down. It will allow families to come together. It's actually very important for the entire community."

Cherry-Lassiter says the Second Chance Act can potentially help thousands of North Carolinians get back on the right track.
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