Legal Aid Society program provides second chances

A $100,000 grant awarded to Legal Aid Society of Cleveland and the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA) by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Justice is helping CMHA residents seal past criminal or juvenile records.

The Juvenile Reentry Assistance Program (JRAP) provides a “second chance” that is meant to help young people, under 25, who live or have lived in public housing or receive vouchers through what’s commonly referred to as Section 8, to get past hurdles to things like finding work or affordable places to live. Through the grant, the Legal Aid Society will pay for a lawyer to help residents go through the expungement process or other legal matters that can often be expensive and overwhelming.

JRAP assistance is available to those who meet the following requirements:

  • Under 25, live in CMHA public housing and have a criminal (adult or juvenile) record
  • Under 25, used to live in CMHA public housing and can no longer live with family who are still in CMHA public housing because of a criminal (adult or juvenile) record?
  • Live in CMHA public housing with a household member who is under 25 and has a criminal (adult or juvenile) record

LegalAidLegal assistance through the program could also come in the form of assistance in restoring a suspended driver’s license or dealing with court fines or fees. More information on the legal problems JRAP can help with is available on a flyer here.

Cleveland.com recently did a feature on the program and highlighted the story of a young mother who participated in the program and was able to have her record sealed and ultimately land a job:

It was basically the “dumbest thing I ever did.”

That’s how a 22-year-old Cleveland mother remembers the winter day she and a few high school friends got caught stuffing clothes and merchandise into their bags at a mall store in Strongsville.

It later led to her arrest, owing $700 in bail, a theft conviction, probation, rejection after rejection from jobs, limited housing choices and the mounting stress of having to rely on her grandma to help support her son while she sorted the whole mess out.

What the young woman needed was simple enough — for her misdemeanor conviction to be expunged. It seemed, though, like a huge hurdle.

Criminal record expungements are in high demand on Cuyahoga County, with the number jumping from 100 in 2015 to 2,000 last year, according to the county records.

Director of Resident Services Kristie Groves told Cleveland.com in an interview that the program fits in with the CMHA’s aim to promote self-sufficiency for its residents, whether that means getting a better job, housing or overcoming other legal hurdles to success, like civil and criminal legal barriers.

The Legal Aid Society is hosting a community legal clinic at Woodhill Estates Community Center June 20 from 2 to 4 p.m.