Unchecking the box

Sacramento community college fills the gap of discontinued NorCal program

This is an extended version of a story that appears in the December 27, 2018, issue.

John Lindsay didn’t quite leave American River College with a fresh start, but he headed home hopeful.

“If you want something different, you’ve got to do something different,” he said.

The 54-year-old knows what it means to change. He spent about 20 years in and out of prison for crimes stemming from his addiction. As he approaches 12 years of “no chaos and drama” through his sobriety, he said, Lindsay went to ARC for help with his new goal: to have his criminal record cleared or reduced.

Lindsay was one of about 30 people who attended a Saturday morning expungement clinic in early December. Organized by the community college’s legal assistance program, the ongoing clinics match attendees with volunteer attorneys who can walk them through the application process. The clinics are open to students and staff, as well as anyone unconnected to the college with one or more California convictions. They just need to bring a printed copy of their rap sheet, or criminal record.

Asha Wilkerson, a legal assisting professor, believes the expungement clinics at ARC are the only free ongoing clinics in Sacramento.

Asha Wilkerson, a legal assisting professor, coordinates the clinics with volunteer help from ARC staff.

“Even if you only help one person, it still makes a difference in that one person’s life,” she said, adding that around 40 to 50 folks went to the first on-campus expungement clinic in May. “We knew it was a need because people showed up.”

The Voluntary Legal Services Program of Northern California used to host expungement clinics Tuesday through Thursday in Sacramento, but those ended in July. The VLSP website cites changes in funding requirements as the reason for ending the 19-year-old program.

Next month, the Sacramento County public defender’s office will launch expungement clinics for homeless people with criminal records using $222,000 from the Homeless Emergency Aid Program.

To Wilkerson’s knowledge, the expungement clinics at ARC are the only free ongoing clinics in Sacramento. She hopes the low-budget program will grow through word of mouth.

“Everyone in this school is trying to do better,” said Shamona Thompson-Ross, an ARC staff member who volunteers at the clinics. “So why not help them?”