Up to 10 clients in programs overseen by Louisiana's Northeast Delta Human Services Authority will have the chance to lift a major barrier to a productive life in recovery, under a pilot initiative to expunge a criminal offense from their record.
“This came about because we wanted to make sure folks had a second chance,” Monteic A. Sizer, PhD, the authority's executive director, tells Addiction Professional. Sizer adds, “We have a prison reentry initiative, and this is a natural extension.”
The authority, which oversees substance use, mental health and developmental disabilities services in a 12-parish region of northeast Louisiana, has hired an attorney to vet individuals who may be eligible for the expungement initiative. The individuals in the pilot must be from Lincoln Parish and have a misdemeanor or felony arrest or conviction, and must be someone receiving (or being screened to receive) services through the authority.
“They will be required to be in our workforce development program,” says Sizer. He explains that the expungement initiative offers a great fit with the agency's commitment to client self-sufficiency as a core value, with a criminal offense often posing a major barrier to this.
'Badge of shame'
Many of the individuals served by programs that the authority oversees committed a crime while under the influence of substances or affected by a serious mental illness, Sizer says. They have paid their debt to society, but the presence of an offense on their record continues to hinder their reintegration in areas such as housing and employment. He likens the past offense to a “badge of shame” that the individual cannot shed.
“It's like painting a picture on a T-shirt of what you were convicted of,” Sizer says. “You paid your debt, but every time people see you, they see that.”
This week, the attorney who was hired by the authority hosted an event in Ruston where she provided initial consultations for individuals interested in participating. Sizer says that even those who do not ultimately qualify for expungement will be eligible for additional reintegration-focused services.
Sizer believes the pilot effort will help demonstrate what can be done on a larger scale. “It can show what's possible when you're willing to do something different,” he says.