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Marty Walsh launches pilot program to help residents seal, expunge criminal records

The initiative is aimed at helping people get access to better housing, education, and jobs.

Mayor Marty Walsh Matt Stone/Pool

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A new pilot program in Boston aims to assist residents in sealing, expunging, and managing their criminal records in hopes of helping them access better housing, educational opportunities, and jobs.

Mayor Marty Walsh announced the launch of Project Opportunity on Tuesday, which brings together public and nonprofit agencies to provide needed support services, officials say.

“We launched Project Opportunity because in Boston all residents deserve a fair chance to gain quality jobs, housing, and education,” Walsh said in a statement. “No matter their past, we owe it to our residents to provide the legal services and job-training programs to achieve a better future, and I’m proud this program builds on our commitment to improving lives in Boston.”

Officials say the program is primarily built off the goal of sealing and expunging CORIs, which disproportionately impact communities of color and limit opportunities for work.

“Black men with a criminal record, for example, are less likely than white men with a criminal record to receive a callback or job offer,” officials said. “This barrier takes a toll on both the individual and society: Stable employment has been found to be one of the most significant factors in preventing a person’s relapse into criminal behavior.”

The city says residents looking to address their CORIs have options they didn’t always have in years past, thanks to changes in state law.

As of 2018, most misdemeanor cases can be sealed after three years, while most felony cases can be after seven years. Cannabis charges can also be expunged from a criminal record, officials say.

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According to the city, Project Opportunity will put residents in touch with free legal consultation; will cover the filing fees of sealing or expunging records; will connect residents with job opportunities, training, and other services such as transportation, housing, and food access; will bring together experts to try to develop solutions to CORI-related problems; and will train city employees who work with residents with CORIs.

The pilot program is working with the nonprofit Lawyers Clearinghouse, which will provide volunteer lawyers to meet with residents. Meanwhile, the city’s violence prevention program Street Outreach, Advocacy, and Response, or SOAR Boston, provides computer access and private space, if needed, for remote appointments.

“The mayor’s Office of Public Safety and the mayor’s Office of Returning Citizens provide outreach to those who could most benefit from these services, while the mayor’s Office of Workforce Development supplies resources on CORI-friendly jobs and job training programs,” officials said.

Project Opportunity comes after Walsh, in 2017, created the Office of Returning Citizens, which helps to support the nearly 3,000 individuals who return to the city from correctional facilities each year and those who were previously incarcerated.

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