By David Brand
A year after the state implemented a conviction-sealing law that enables some offenders to have their records cleared, only a handful of Queens residents have benefited.
The Legal Aid Society and Borough President Melinda Katz are trying to change by helping people apply to have their convictions sealed during a series of events later this month.
“Know Your Rights Week: Closing Cases, Opening Doors” public workshops will take place in various parts of the the borough from Oct. 24 to 26. The workshops enable attendees to meet with lawyers to confidentially discuss how to apply to seal their non-violent criminal conviction records and clean up their rap sheet.
“Queens is pleased to present another series of conviction sealing workshops with the Legal Aid Society to equip New Yorkers of their rights,” Katz said. “The burden of a past, non-violent mistake should not ruin or impede future opportunities for the rest of one’s life. If we eliminate barriers to opportunity, we can reduce recidivism rates, boost our economy and change our city, our communities and our lives for the better.”
In August, the Eagle covered the first series of conviction sealing workshops. The conviction sealing law allows New Yorkers with no more than two misdemeanor convictions or one felony and one misdemeanor conviction to have their convictions sealed if they have remained crime-free for ten years. Sex offenses, violent felonies, and serious felonies are not eligible for sealing.
As of August 7, only 24 Queens residents have had their records sealing, the Queens District Attorney’s office told the Eagle.
Overall, the DA received 65 valid conviction-sealing applications, of which 36 were disposed since the law went into effect, assistant district attorneys told the Eagle. In addition to the 24 records successfully sealed, 11 applications were denied and one was dismissed when the applicant did not show up for a hearing.
A total of 29 applications were still awaiting court action.
Emma Goodman, staff attorney in the Special Litigation Unit and Coordinator of Case Closed at The Legal Aid Society, said the event could help boost those numbers.
“We hope to reach more people that can benefit from this new law,” Goodman said. “The tangible and psychological effects of record sealing can be truly life-changing. The Case Closed project has helped clients seal their records in all five boroughs, and has already seen people get jobs and other opportunities they never would have dreamed of before their records were sealed. It’s important that people understand that their criminal record does not define who they are or what they can become.”
Below is a calendar of conviction-sealing workshops:
Wednesday, October 24 from 4:00 - 6:00 p.m.
Ocean Bay Community Center with Rock Safe Streets
57-10 Beach Channel Drive in Far Rockaway
Wednesday, October 24 from 7:30 - 9:00 p.m.
Redfern Houses Community Center with Fathers Alive in the Hood
1544 Hassock Street in Far Rockaway
Thursday, October 25 from 4:00 - 6:00 p.m.
Transitional Services for New York, Inc. with LIFE Camp, Inc.
90-27 Sutphin Boulevard in Jamaica
Thursday, October 25 from 7:30 – 9:00 p.m.
South Jamaica Cornerstone Community Center
109-04 160th Street in Jamaica
Friday, October 26 from 4:00 - 6:00 p.m.
696 Build Queensbridge
10-31 41st Avenue in Long Island City