Criminal Justice

Opportunities from Expungement, Effort

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June 14, 2013 — Some convicted felons and others holding misdemeanor records for an extended period could have their slates wiped cleaned starting July 1. Renetta DuBose explored the new expungement law and how several groups are joining forces to get the word out to teenagers who might fit the bill.

Students and other adults in the Gary area will be among the first to hear how they could benefit from the new Expungement Law House Bill 1482. Starting July 1 Hoosiers convicted of misdemeanors at least five years ago, and others convicted or sentenced for felonies between eight and ten years ago, can have their records erased or sealed. Bennie Muhammad with the Gary Commission on the Social Status of Black Males is leading the charge to educate northwest Indiana residents, and he’s starting with troubled youth, “With juvenile criminal convictions, once they turn 21 years old their record can be expunged.”

That erasing of wrongdoing does not apply to violent crimes and sexual offenses, and Muhammad says the perception among young people regarding expungement is often inaccurate.

“Many juveniles don’t know, they believe that once I turn 21, my record will be erased anyway. That’s true, but it’s not automatic. You have to petition for the expungement.”

Living a record free life helps anyone land a good job, but Muhammad says other factors hurt children from economically depressed communities in the region, “From what we’ve been able to draw from them, many of the students, young men and young ladies, are raising themselves. It’s not through any fault of their own. Many are from single parent homes. Their parent has left home in the morning prior to them going to school going to work. When they come home from school the parent is not home, so the youth are generally, some, are placed in the position to raise themselves.”

There will soon be help for those struggling children. Laurence Inkatha is Founder & CEO of Inkatha Youth Foundation, and he is launching his “I AM Youth Program” this summer.

“Our goal with the I Am Youth Program is to put together an empowerment and support network for the youth of 1,000 adults. We call these adults I Am Angels.”
Inkatha says youth today across the country have not had the opportunity to engage in communities like adults. Through the arts, he plans to set the stage for cultural enhancement, “At the end of ten weeks we have a teacher and ten students, book of poems. They will be published poets. Singing class…compilation CD, dance recital.”

Students in the program will also be able to develop financial literacy thanks to sponsors who will donate twenty dollars a month.

Inkatha says, “In Gary now HUD houses are selling from $3000-4000. Instead of claiming some turf, they can own some turf. When they bring that house up to code, it’s at least going to triple in value. So if they buy it for $5000 and $5000, they have a property worth $15,000.”

If students can’t commit to the ten-month I am youth program, then this is their best time to get a summer job. The US Department of Labor says there are more jobs for teenagers this summer than since before the Great Recession. Indiana Youth Institute President and CEO Bill Stanczykiewicz encourages instilling job skills early in order to produce successful working adults, “The kids are thinking about the paycheck obviously, but the Casey Foundation shows that these kids also learn important work skills. Punctuality, how to dress appropriately, how to get along with others and treating the customer right. When we learn these skills as kids, we bring them into the workplace as adults. We’re much more like to get hired, promoted and get raises. Conversely the research shows when we don’t develop those work skills as kids, it’s harder to get jobs as adults and move up the economic ladder.”

The Inkatha Youth Program’s informational meeting Saturday, June 22, is at the Glen Theater in Gary from noon-3pm. The program is for students age eight and older, and related information is at iamthejam.com.

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