Wyandotte Country District Attorney Mark Dupree is on the lookout for folks with criminal records. He wants to talk with them about the possibility of wiping clean that history and giving them a new chance.
Starting on Wednesday and continuing every Wednesday until August 14, his office is hosting expungement fairs at Kansas City Kansas Community College Technical Education Center as part of an effort to be what Dupree calls "smart on crime."
"We have prosecutors in positions now who are not trying to simply do traditionalistic things, and waiting for folks to mess up and simply lock them up," he says. "Our focus is being more proactive."
Jonathan Carter, the district attorney's public information officer, says 60 people showed up on the first day to take advantage of the help.
"People shouldn't spend too much time going through the process at all," Carter says. "We have a process down that's streamlined."
Representatives from the Wyandotte County District Attorney's office, Kansas Legal Services and pro bono lawyers will be at the fair each Wednesday from 2-5 p.m. to review cases and help file the appropriate paperwork.
Depending on the seriousness of the crime, convictions or diversions can be expunged three or five years after the case is satisfied, though some serious crimes can never be expunged.
Data analysis from the Prison Policy Initiative in 2018 shows the unemployment rate for formerly incarcerated people was more than 27% — higher than it's ever been for the U.S. as a whole. Prior research also suggests people with criminal records are half as likely as those without records to recieve calls back from potential employers.
"We know that the biggest obstacle for getting a job is a criminal record, and the biggest reason for folks going to commit crime is for a lack of job," Dupree says, "so we're trying to jump in and stop this cycle."
To ease the expungement process, his office has posted much of the necessary paperwork online. It's one more way, he says, to help people of all income-levels take advantage of the legal maneuver.
"Before you would have to have a lawyer, which would charge $500-$1,000 to even fill out the paperwork — sorry, defense lawyers — we put it online so that they can take that cost away," Dupree says.
People without internet access can use one of several computers in the Wyandotte County Courthouse's "help room."
Several other counties in Kansas have had similar events, including Leavenworth, Douglas and Sedgwick, according to Dupree. He won't offer a guess as to how many people might take advantage of the free resource, but says a one-day event in Sedgwick County had to turn people away.
"We don't want to have to turn anyone away because of the time, so if we can't get them all in on that day, they have the whole summer until August 14," he says.
"They've served their time, they've paid their debt to society," Dupree adds, "(now let's) give them a second chance so that they can become a part of the tax base rather than the tax burden."