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Clinic will help ex-offenders looking for a fresh start

Justice statue
Flickr user Jack
Creative Commons http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The Access to Justice Clinic at Western Michigan University Cooley Law School and the 61st District Court are teaming up to help give some criminals a second chance.

Legal experts at the event next week will offer one-on-one legal consultations to help people determine whether their crimes are eligible for expungement.

A state law passed last Januaryexpanded expungement criteria.

Those convicted of a single felony or a couple of misdemeanors may now apply to get their crimes removed from their records.

However, Ayda Rezaian-Nojani, staff attorney at WMU's Access to Justice Clinic, said many still don't realize it's an option.

An old misdemeanor or felony can create barriers to employment and education opportunities, Rezaian-Nojani said.

"You can't get financial aid, so you have a hard time advancing your education or getting a degree," she said. 

Those with families face additional barriers.

"We've got a lot of individuals out there who've got a criminal history that can't participate in field trips with their kids, who can't volunteer at their kid's school,” Rezaian-Nojani said. “For the parent who can’t do that because of something they did 20 years ago, that’s a huge barrier.”

For some, expungment is simply about escaping the label of "criminal."

"Those are individuals who have done their time, they've paid their restitution, but yet they're still being labeled or stigmatized by their criminal conviction, even though they've done everything right since," Rezaian-Nojani said.

Certain convictions are still ineligible for expungement, including child abuse, human trafficking, and acts of terrorism.

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