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VOL. 131 | NO. 199 | Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Just City Expungement Fee Fund Awaits Grants

By Bill Dries

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One of the city’s two funds to pay expungement fees for first-time offenders who have served their time and stayed out of trouble for five years is out of money for now in a grant-to-grant existence.

One of two expungement funds to pay the $450 fees to wipe clean the records of one-time offenders with no other trouble for five years has run out of money with grants anticipated at year’s end.

(Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)

The Clean Slate Fund run by Just City, the criminal justice reform group, has spent $50,000 at $450 per person since 2012 when the program was part of the Shelby County Public Defender’s office. Just City took over administration of the fund in 2015.

“We figured out how to do it a lot faster,” said Just City executive director Josh Spickler. “Of those 133 expungements, we’ve probably done 80 of them this year.”

The fund is about to get the latest installment of a multi-year grant from the Memphis Bar Association that got the effort up and running in 2012. And there are two grant applications totaling $11,000 that Just City will get some word on by the end of the year.

“We’ll piece it together, but to really handle the flow, we need a pretty large infusion of $10,000 to $20,000,” Spickler said.

Until then, Just City has a waiting list.

“It will grow rather quickly,” Spickler said. “The problem with this is out of 10 inquiries, one or two may qualify. We are used to filtering several people a week. The problem is now when we find someone, we have to put them on a second waiting list.”

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland led the effort to create a separate expungement fee fund with private donations that raised $55,000, according to the administration.

The city fund comes with job training in the federally funded Workforce Investment Network before the expungement fee is paid.

In July, the city fund paid for 18 expungements. And Strickland is to deliver a second set of checks for 24 expungements.

At $450 per person, the 42 expungements account for $18,900 of the $55,000 fund.

Democratic state Rep. Raumesh Akbari of Memphis introduced legislation in the Tennessee Legislature to reduce the $450 expungement fee earlier this year, but it failed. The amount of revenue different state and local agencies get for their part of the expungement process, and would lose with the proposed reduction, was cited by critics of the measure.

Expungement requests are investigated by the Shelby County District Attorney General’s office and the General Sessions Court Clerk’s office.

Another attempt to reduce the fee is expected in the session that begins in January.

PROPERTY SALES 207 263 9,865
MORTGAGES 197 246 10,862
BUILDING PERMITS 138 686 21,643
BANKRUPTCIES 0 256 6,219