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A federal judge and an ex-convict are helping Kansas Citians get settled in society after prison

Only 6% of Kansas inmates are taking college classes or going through a technical degree.
Nomin Ujiyediin
Kansas News Service
Only 6% of Kansas inmates are taking college classes or going through a technical degree.

As Kansas City sees increasing rates of gun violence, some local officials and activists are looking for ways to help the formerly incarcerated reenter the work force, clean their record, and find a way out of "a cycle of violent crime.”

Johnny Waller says he applied to 175 jobs after being released from prison — and was rejected from every one because of his criminal record.

“I was a violent offender. I sold drugs. I didn't want to do it, but I had no other option," Waller told KCUR's Up To Date. “There's really not much that you could do except for going back to your same cycle of behavior. I was so frustrated that I asked them to send me back to prison.”

According to data collected by the United States Sentencing Commission, nearly 64% of people who have a violent crime on their record will be arrested again.

This is just one factor that is driving what Waller describes as a “cycle of violence,” where those who are charged with a violent crime become repeat offenders after they're released.

U.S. District Court Judge Stephen Bough says that Waller’s experiences are not unique.

“[There’s a lack] of expungement we see on the state and federal side," Bough says. “It keeps people from getting jobs, keeps people from getting apartments, keeps people from being able to move ahead on just about anything in their life.”

Bough and Waller now work together on efforts to expand state and federal expungement and re-entry services.

Bough oversees a court program that helps people released from prison obtain jobs in exchange for agreeing certain criteria upon their release, such as attending counseling and completing additional community service.

Waller is the manager of the Clean My Record Expungement Project, a program which assists Missouri residents in clearing certain charges from their record.

While both programs have seen success, Waller says the best way to help the formerly incarcerated is to eliminate the stigma against them.

“We need to reimagine re-entry and our attitude towards being tough on crime and mass incarceration,” says Waller. “We're warehousing people and then providing them no opportunity.”

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When I host Up To Date each morning at 9, my aim is to engage the community in conversations about the Kansas City area’s challenges, hopes and opportunities. I try to ask the questions that listeners want answered about the day’s most pressing issues and provide a place for residents to engage directly with newsmakers. Reach me at steve@kcur.org or on Twitter @stevekraske.
As KCUR’s Community Engagement Producer, I help welcome our audiences into the newsroom, and bring our journalism out into the communities we serve. Many people feel overlooked or misperceived by the media, and KCUR needs to do everything we can to cover and empower the diverse communities that make up the Kansas City metro — especially the ones who don’t know us in the first place. My work takes the form of reporting stories, holding community events, and bringing what I’ve learned back to Up To Date and the rest of KCUR.

What should KCUR be talking about? Who should we be talking to? Let me know. You can email me at zjperez@kcur.org or message me on Twitter at @zach_pepez.
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