Madison County set to launch Ready to Work Initiative that will assist in expunging or sealing criminal records
WOOD RIVER — Individuals who face legal obstacles to employment can now access help to eliminate those barriers.
Madison County Employment and Training and Land of Lincoln Legal Aid announced they are collaborating on an initiative to assist individuals who are “ready to work.”
The Lawyers Trust Fund of Illinois funded a two-year program at Land of Lincoln’s Western Regional Office in Alton. The program, called the Ready to Work Initiative, assists individuals seeking to overcome barriers to employment by providing them with access to an attorney who may be able to help them in a variety of ways such as sealing and expunging criminal records, addressing drivers’ license issues and occupational licenses along with improving credit.
The Ready to Work Initiative has already been highly successful in Land of Lincoln’s Eastern and Southern Regional offices.
Daniel R. Kuehnert, a staff attorney with Land of Lincoln who will lead the project, said that many legal barriers prevent people from landing a job or getting a higher paying job.
“The mistake you make at 18 years old shouldn’t prevent you from getting a job when you’re 40,” Kuehnert said.
Tony Fuhrmann, director of employment and training, agreed and said he was please the non-profit contacted his office about the program.
“This is an opportunity for people to get a leg up in the workforce,” Fuhrmann said.
Kuehnert said that he and a paralegal would be working with individuals referred by MCE&T to identify their barriers to employment and help them resolve them, including taking action to seal and expunge their criminal records, if they are eligible for sealing and expungement.
The expungement of a criminal record is the process in which the record is destroyed. The sealing of a record is when the documents are removed from public view.
The first step in the process is to check to see if someone is eligible to have a record expunged or sealed. After the initial step, the individual would receive assistance in moving forward.
“Maybe someone was charged with shoplifting when they were 19,” he said. “The charges were dropped, now they are 35 years old and the arrest record is still out there. This can help to remove that record.”
Kuehnert said although Illinois law prevents a potential employer from asking someone if they’ve been arrested on a job application, as someone moves further into the process of being hired, a background check may still show the arrest.
Other areas where Land of Lincoln may be able to assist individuals is when they have lost a driver’s license due to child support or need to have their credit repaired through a bankruptcy so they can obtain a security clearance or a student loan for college.
Land of Lincoln will provide a full range of legal services to assist with employment barriers through partnerships with Southwestern Illinois WorkNet Center and other agencies within Madison County.
“Through this initiative, Land of Lincoln will work with Employment and Training customers to address legal barriers for unemployed and underemployed persons,” Fuhrmann said. “Our -number one goal is that we are trying to help people get back to work.”
Chairman Kurt Prenzler said the partnership between the agencies is a positive one. He said he sees it as a success in that it will allow individuals to become more successful in the workforce.
“It’s helping someone overcome a barrier to a better life,” Prenzler said.
Kuehnert agreed and said being able to get a job and financial aid for school are contingent on convictions.
“If someone is able to get that removed, then it gives them a fresh start in life,” he said.