KANKAKEE — Kankakee County’s state’s attorney says the county is ahead of the curve when it comes to expunging low-level convictions such as marijuana possession.
Recently, Cook County prosecutors announced they will work with a nonprofit to expunge tens of thousands of marijuana convictions.
Jim Rowe said a local program, Project Clean Slate, has been holding expungement and sealing clinics twice per year — one at the Pembroke Public Library, the other at Kankakee’s Morning Star Baptist Church in partnership with pastor Montele Crawford — since he became state’s attorney in December 2016.
Rowe estimates the program has helped more than 1,000 people.
The program also helps with smaller clinics at the request of churches or local organizations.
“We have been active in local sealing and expungement. Many have already had their records sealed,” Rowe said in an interview this week.
In a later email, Rowe said employment is key for convicted criminals who are released.
“Employment is one of the most effective ways to reduce recidivism, but past convictions — even for nonviolent misdemeanor offenses — can pose a barrier to employment many years later,” Rowe said. “The individuals we assist with sealing and expungement have been off of parole or probation for at least three years. They served their time, and it is better for our community if they are working and contributing to society. Self-sufficiency is the goal, as the alternative is more crime and greater financial burden on the taxpayers.”
The clinic gives people a chance to expunge or seal their criminal records at no cost to taxpayers.
Volunteers help people complete paperwork and determine if they’re eligible for expungement or sealing.
The law limits those offenses that can be sealed or expunged, and a number of statutory factors are taken into consideration, Rowe said. Expungement, he said, requires full payment of court fines.
“Fines are not required to be paid in order to seal the offense, but they remain due and subject to collection even after the case has been sealed,” Rowe said in the email.
Another clinic will be planned before the end of the year in Kankakee, Rowe said.
For more information, call Rowe’s office at 815-936‐5800.