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Second Chance Act: How a simple change in criminal records could keep formerly incarcerated from going back to prison in North Carolina

North Carolina's Second Chance Act would broaden the criteria to expunge a criminal record. It would clear multiple nonviolent misdemeanors or low-level felony convictions, irrespective of the age of the person.

When the then 26-year-old Corey Purdie came out of Pamlico Correctional Institution in 2006 after serving time for eight years, he had a hard time getting back on his feet. He faced discrimination because of his prison record, that included a robbery and drug charge but he was determined to make a difference.

With his sheer will and a little help from his friends, he started his own business called Miracle Wash a year later, that went on to become a successful car cleaning and detailing business. He is today in partnership with the Southern Coalition, founder and director of Washaway Unemployment Inc., a board member with the North Carolina Justice Center and an advocate for individuals directly impacted by the criminal justice system.


But, not everyone that gets out of prison with a record can make it through to a decent life as he did and that's why North Carolina needs a Second Chance Act.  

North Carolina's Second Chance Act would broaden the criteria to expunge a criminal record. It would clear multiple nonviolent misdemeanors or low-level felony convictions, irrespective of the age of the person and it would go on to clear records for misdemeanors and minor felonies committed at the age of 16 or 17 years old. At the moment, it only involved non-violent crimes and first-time convictions. But, the passing of the Second Chance Act could do one up to the other states that currently have many versions of the Second Chance Act - it has community canvassing, Purdie told MEA World Wide.

Corey Purdie's 'Miracle Wash' has turned the life of 216 ex-convicts' around. (Facebook/Corie Purdie)

"This would be a little bit more than just standard automation of expunging their records - it would go beyond that. Some people may never even know that their record has been expunged," Purdie, who also acts as the Community Manager for the Second Chance Alliance, which is an advocate for the legislation passed by the NC Senate, said. So what the Alliance does is have a group of individuals that have been formerly incarcerated and then changed their lives, go around throughout the state and inform them of the change, he said. They are told that their rights have been restored and educate them on the possibilities of employment and how to go about it. 

He added that there are so many skilled incarcerated individuals who are just sitting unemployed because that one box checks out that throws their application in the trash. They have degrees and have completed programs in prison that would make them the top candidates for the job, he pointed out. "There are charges that have been dismissed or they've been found innocent but when they go in for a job, they don't even get the opportunity to explain the situation. These are skilled people we are talking about, who would have the experience in say, Food and Beverage industry or warehousing. This would eliminate those very important barriers," he said.

Corey Purdie, now 39 years old, says that the Second Chance act could be a boon to the employment rates in North Carolina (Corey Purdie)

He says that most of these offenses include drug charges for those who may have been addicts or taking non-prescription drugs and even those that may have been raised in poverty and introduced to a lifestyle of selling drugs at a young age. "Their records just sit there and hinders them from moving forward and increases the possibility of them going back to the life of crime," he said.

There's a need for a change in mindset as well because unfortunately, those with a record are automatically assumed to be violent or unfit. It would also help with their housing situation, said Roberta Meyers, Director of State Strategy and Reentry and National H.I.R.E. Network of the Legal Action Centre. "Once eligible individuals have their records expunged and their records are in fact no longer retrievable by the public, they will be able to pass a criminal record screen for jobs and housing," she said. 

However, it would take some effort on the part of the government to see this through. Correct implementation, the use of the latest technology which doesn't come cheap as well as lots of extra paperwork, among other things, she says.  "The Administration of Courts seems to be taking on the lion’s share of the work to distribute the expungement orders to all of the various state and local agencies.  I’m concerned that there still may be some gaps in the transfer of information between the state and the FBI, which also will have these records and need to remove them from their NCIC database," she noted.

Educating the public on the criteria for expungement and how to go through with it will also be an uphill task, she said. "Also, some individuals may not want to go back to court to file the petition or not understand the waiver process for the $175 fee. Individuals may need some legal assistance in completing an expungement petition.  So there may be greater demand and need for legal service support in the state to help individuals navigate this judicial remedy," she said. 

The Second Chance Act measure will now go to the House, to be passed. 

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