For some prisoners, the past is in the past

by Greg Kozol - News-Press NOW

Anyone over a certain age recalls being told that a bad act would go down on your permanent record.

It turns out that this threat of everlasting, unshakable taint may be subject to some wiggle room. A movement to expunge or hide aspects of a person’s criminal past is gathering steam in Missouri and other states. It’s part of an effort to help former inmates find employment after release from prison.

“What offenders who are re-entering society are asking for is an equal opportunity,” said Suzanne Kissock, chair and program director of the legal studies program at Missouri Western State University. “Should a conviction stay with you, if it is a nonviolent offense, for the rest of your life?”

Two decades ago, politicians would have given a strong “yes” when asked that question. That consensus is starting to erode as Republicans seek to reduce prison costs and some Democrats see the issue as one of fairness for those who paid a debt to society.

Missouri lawmakers gave bipartisan support this year to a bill that allows four crimes to be expunged from a person’s record: first-degree property damage, stealing, possession of forging instruments and fraudulent use of a credit or debit device. The measure, which covers offenses that are common for people with drug addictions, became law in late August.

Read more: