* Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart has a new op-ed in the Sun-Times about people who deserve arrest record expungements, but can’t afford them…
In Illinois, however, restoring your good name comes with a hefty price tag –$120. That’s the cost to apply for an arrest expungement in Cook County. In several downstate counties, the expungement application fees are as high as $300 or $400, with no guarantee of success.
These cases are more common than most people realize. Nineteen percent of Cook County Jail inmates end up leaving the jail because their charges get dropped entirely, meaning more than 13,000 Cook County arrestees in 2015 alone were told they could not expunge those arrests without paying the piper.
One hundred twenty dollars is a lot of money to a lot of people. Consider the 200 people in Cook County Jail who could walk out the door right now if they had $500 to post bond. Do we really think that someone who can’t come up with $500 to restore his or her freedom will have $120 sitting around to wade through the tangled legal web of arrest expungements? And even if they do, does that make it right?
* Sheriff Dart is backing legislation to deal with the problem…
With the support of state Rep. Art Turner (D-Chicago) and Sen. Jacqueline Collins (D-Chicago), I have introduced and advocated for state legislation that would end this insidious practice of funding government on the backs of the poor and desperate. This sweeping reform bill would do away with the expungement fee entirely for those who have had their case dropped, found not guilty, or acquitted. […]
My legislation passed the House with strong bi-partisan support, but has now been held up in the State Senate following pushback from the Illinois State Police, who claim that they count on the hundreds of thousands of dollars brought in by these expungement fees. I dare say that if government must generate revenue by picking the pockets of poor people, perhaps we never deserved that money in the first place. This is simply an unconscionable case of government actively working against the people it is supposed to serve.
* Meanwhile, the wrongfully convicted are getting shut out…
Now in its 11th month, the Illinois budget crisis continues to cause irreparable harm to organizations and individuals across our state. Some funding has been restored quickly; when lottery payments were frozen last year, for instance, massive public outcry led to their reinstatement within just a few months. Other funding, however, has not been so lucky. Compensation payments to exonerees have remained frozen with little public notice since the budget crisis began.
Wrongful convictions are black marks on our legal system. Far too often, innocent men and women lose decades of their lives to prison due to errors made by the state. Even after exonerating evidence comes to light, these victims of our imperfect justice system can remain imprisoned for years more as they fight through the Illinois and federal court systems. Their uphill battle only continues after exoneration.
The time that these men and women spend in prison leaves a permanent gap in their vocational, educational and personal history. Despite their factual innocence, they face difficulty finding employment, housing and community support. Making matters worse is the fact that many of them leave prison essentially penniless.
Recognizing the need to support these exonerees as they transition back to society, Illinois did the honorable thing: We created a law to provide them with financial compensation for the time that they were wrongfully imprisoned. The compensation levels aren’t high; they are capped at about $220,000 total for those who served over 14 years—well below the federal government’s recommendation of $63,000 per year. Even so, this compensation can provide critical support that these men and women need to restart their lives.