A criminal arrest or conviction record can be the biggest impediment to getting gainful employment, and the two-year-old Papillon Foundation is determined to help teach those who have one how to get it expunged.
And if the number of hits the foundation’s website gets – between 300 and 500 per day – is any indication, there are a lot of people out there who want to learn how to do it. In fact, when former lawyer Alan Courtney – who founded the Creston Calif.-headquartered foundation with his wife, Nina – was in prison for white-collar crime, he found it was a serious concern among his fellow inmates.
“When I was in county jail and in prison this was like the number one thing that Inmates would talk about. It was that when they got out they could not get a job because of their criminal record. They couldn’t get a job, they couldn’t get housing, and they were worried,” Courtney says.
He realized that there’s a desperate need for this type of information, and when released in 2010 decided to do something about it. Courtney and his wife began collecting information in all 50 States, the District of Columbia and American Territories on how each state handles expungement in order to build their website.
It took about a year to get their nonprofit status, and now the couple supplies self-help information so that ex-offenders can apply for their own expungements, or if they need help – an average of about four per day do – the Courtneys will assist them.
The first step in that help is sending a standard email that explains how to use the website, since it’s designed for do-it-your-selfers.
The Courtneys ask the people who can’t make it work to send them their rap sheet. “Without the rap sheet we really can’t help them, because a lot of times they think they know what they were charged with, but it turns out to be something else,” he says.
“We also find lots and lots of mistakes on these rap sheets, and the rap sheet is what the courts go on, so what really happened doesn’t matter. Nine times out of ten there’s something strange on the rap sheet. Very rarely does it comply with exactly what they (the ex-offender) think it should be.”
In looking at who requests information, Courtney found an interesting phenomenon. “We get 75 percent of our inquiries from women, but women are less than 10 percent of the prison population,” he says. These women are not just doing it for themselves but for their sons, their brothers and their boyfriends.
While expunging records is not easy anywhere, there are several states where it is particularly difficult, if not impossible. According to Courtney, in New Mexico and Alaska there is no expungement at all, and New York only allows expungement of arrest records, not conviction records. Indiana recently changed its laws to allow expungements, and Oklahoma works on a county-by-county basis. Ex-offenders there must file in civil court in roughly half of the state’s counties and in criminal court in the other half.
The whole process is quite complicated, but the Papillon Foundation makes it a bit easier by offering a wide range of information that includes links to forms, articles, how-to guides, organizations and free legal resources for each state. For those seeking expungement, the website is an exceptionally helpful source.
Contact the Papillon Foundation through its website at http://www.papillonfoundation.org, by phone at 805-712-3378 or by mail at:
The Papillon Foundation, P.O. Box 338, Creston, CA 93432-0338