LENA MITCHELL: Expungement yes, but restore voting rights, too

LENA MITCHELL

LENA MITCHELL

People make mistakes, and many times they pay for those mistakes in the criminal justice system.

Mississippi’s expungement law gives criminal offenders hope for a second chance by having a criminal conviction wiped off the record.

On Saturday the University of Mississippi law school will hold a clinic to help people learn how to erase their criminal record.

The workshop is scheduled for 10 a.m.-noon in the law center building, room 1078. It is sponsored by the Magnolia Bar Association, the Mississippi Volunteer Lawyers Project and the law school’s Pro Bono Initiative and Black Law Students Association. Expungement legally destroys records in files, computers and other places that retain criminal records.

“Many people who have been arrested and/or convicted of a misdemeanor or felony have been denied jobs, access to public housing or public benefits or more because of their criminal records,” said Karen Peairs in the press release announcing the clinic.

“This is an opportunity for them to come and learn more about the expungement process so that they can hopefully remove convictions from their records and overcome the negative impacts these convictions have on their lives.”

The event is free, and participants need to bring valid identification, a copy of their criminal record and an adjudication certification. The sponsoring organizations also will assess whether participants are eligible for expungement and free assistance to complete the process.

While Mississippi has had expungement laws on the books for many years, expungement does not restore voting rights.

In fact, Mississippi remains one of only 11 states that do not restore voting rights after a felon has fulfilled all the terms of conviction. Iowa became one of that number again in 2011. Until then voting rights were automatically restored to felons when they were released from state supervision, but the governor issued an executive order that ended the practice.

Fortunately, the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People – ACLU and NAACP – are providing important information and support to help convicted felons understand that many of them still retain their voting rights after conviction.

There are 21 specific crimes – and only if the convictions occurred in Mississippi – that prevent one from voting in Mississippi: armed robbery, arson, bigamy, bribery, carjacking, embezzlement, extortion, felony bad check, felony shoplifting, forgery, larceny, murder, obtaining money or goods under false pretense, perjury, rape, receiving stolen property, robbery, statutory rape, theft, timber larceny and unlawful taking of a vehicle.

Earlier this week U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder asked that all states restore voting rights to felons who have served their sentences.

The story of the Bible is the story of God giving us grace, in spite of all the terrible things we do.

He doesn’t only give us a second chance, he gives us another chance, and another chance and another – as many as it takes for us to see Him clearly and choose to walk in His path.

With our state’s reputation for a strong Christian ethic, following Holder’s recommendation seems the right thing to do.

Romans 5:8: “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Lena Mitchell is the Daily Journal Corinth Bureau reporter and writes a Sunday column each month. Contact her at lena.mitchell@journalinc.com.