Legal resources

Dealing with your criminal record

Since most companies conduct background checks before hiring someone, it is important to advise the hiring manager that you have a record sometime during your interview. Hearing it from you first can serve to establish your credibility and can also reduce any apprehension the hiring manager might have should they find out about it without you sharing it first. Using the turnaround talk at an appropriate time during your face-to-face interview with the hiring manager can accomplish this important step.  

But before you do that, however, it’s important that you understand what’s on your record. Obtain a copy of it from the courthouse in the area where the misdemeanor or felony occurred. And go over it carefully, so you understand the terminology, what it states and what it leaves out. Also find out if, and when, your conviction can be expunged or legally minimized.

It’s important to remember that, unlike a background check, your RAP sheet is confidential and not public information, which means that most people cannot see it. Even though they are confidential, some of the information will show up on a background check. And that’s why you need to know what is on your RAP sheet. 

Download a copy of Root and Rebound’s Reentry Planning Toolkit

Root and Rebound is an Oakland, Calif.-based nonprofit that provides reentry legal advice. The organization created a Reentry Planning Toolkit designed to help individuals in reentry from prison and jail and people with arrest and conviction records develop an individualized reentry plan and learn about their legal rights. The toolkit provides answers to key such questions as: “What are my rights with a criminal record? Where do I start? Who can help? When should I start?” It also provides practical tools—important information, action steps, questionnaires, checklists, tips, referrals, and resources—that can guide you through common questions in reentry and help you find the answers and support you seek. You can download the toolkit at the above link.

Clean up your criminal record

Those who qualify and would like to try to expunge their arrest or conviction record(s) can get help from The Papillon Foundation. Its website offers a wide range of information, with links to forms, articles, how-to guides, organizations and free legal resources for each state, the District of Columbia and the American Territories.

The Papillon Foundation also will give free personal help to certain ex-offenders—those who are indigent, a veteran or a victim of human trafficking—if they need it. For everyone else, it asks for a small donation.

Root and Rebound also offers support in this area. The information available at their website on understanding and cleaning up your record can be a good place to get started.

If you’re in California you might want to check out Code for America’s Clear My Record. This online tool helps people to reduce or dismiss their convictions, if they occurred in California. After spending 10 minutes to fill out an online application, those who use the tool will be connected to a public defender or legal aid attorney to continue the process.

A few more helpful websites:

US Department of Justice – Reentry page.

Legal Action Center – Provides toolkits to combat legal barriers facing individuals with criminal records.

Virtual Self-Help Law Center – Self-help law center for California.