justice System

The Fresh Start Initiative helps individuals with nonviolent criminal histories get a chance for a better life through the expungement of their records at a reduced cost.

“The purpose of this is to help those individuals who now need to and want to get back into mainstream America by eliminating their criminal histories,” John DeRosier, Calcasieu Parish district attorney, said in a news conference on Friday.

Third Circuit Court of Appeal Chief Judge Gene Thibodeaux called the initiative a “gateway of opportunity” for those who would otherwise find it difficult to gain employment because of their history.

“This is a great tool in workforce development,” said Mark Judson, Southwest Louisiana Law Center executive director.

The program is also a cost saver. Judson said that if a person pursues an expungement on their own, fees would amount to about $600. If that person hires an attorney to help, he said, he or she will pay up to $2,000 in additional expenses.

“The total cost for a successful applicant should be in the neighborhood of about $400, maybe $375,” Judson said. “Those who make it as far as the fingerprinting process will only be exposed to a $26 expense.”

Applications are being taken now on the program’s website, www.freshstartcalcasieu.com, for this year’s invitation-only screening event, scheduled for Aug. 30 at the Lake Charles Civic Center. Judson said thousands are expected to apply but that, initially, only the first 500 will be accepted for screening.

“We will find several who are not eligible for expungement,” he said. “We will then take in new applications and process them.”

Not eligible under this program, according to Judson, are certain violent crimes as defined by state statute; any convictions or arrests outside of Calcasieu Parish; and sentences not fully completed.

Judson said that those with a “good chance” of expungement will be invited to the Aug. 30 event, where “over 50 laypeople and over 50 volunteer attorneys will assist all applicants with further intensive screening.”

For those who aren’t eligible for immediate expungement that day “but have a great shot at expungement,” Judson said, state police will take their fingerprints and send them, along with additional information, to Baton Rouge and determine if they are eligible for expungement.

A second invitation-only event will be on Oct. 25 at the Civic Center, where, according to Judson, the “judgment of expungement will finally be obtained.”

“Last year, over 2,000 people applied through our website. Of those 2,000 people, about 300 were prescreened and preliminarily determined to be (possibly) eligible for expungement,” Judson said. “About 108 were actually invited to the Civic Center. And out of the 108, we granted 46 expungements in that one day.”

DeRosier said volunteers — attorneys and members of the community — are still needed for the Aug. 30 event. “We are recruiting immediately,” said Judson.

For more information on the program, call the law center at 436-3308.