Wilmington (July 12, 2022) – The New Hanover County’s Board of Commissioners  approved a budget for 2022-2023 in June that includes an allocation of more than $350,000 for a program to assist residents obtaining criminal record relief — such as expunctions and driver’s license restoration. We applaud the County Commissioners, the New Hanover District Attorney’s Office, Legal Aid of North Carolina, Leading in New Communities (LINC), and others who worked to establish the program. Funding this program and similar programs makes second chances possible for thousands of people in New Hanover County.

A criminal record or a suspended driver’s license makes it harder for residents to find work, housing, and other meaningful opportunities. Many employers are hesitant to hire people with criminal records. Most high-paying jobs require a valid driver’s license or reliable transportation. For those seeking housing, public housing associations disqualify people with certain criminal charges. A suspended driver’s license and unreliable transportation limit where an individual can live.

These issues affect thousands of New Hanover County residents, many of whom cannot afford legal representation that could assist them in expunging criminal records or restoring driver’s licenses. Pro bono legal systems have limited resources and can only serve a finite number of residents at a time. As a result, thousands of people who live in low-income households suffer worse consequences than those from wealthier households who have been charged with similar offenses. These consequences disproportionately affect Black and Latinx residents.

Far too many people are either unaware of this relief or unable to afford it. Dedicated legal service programs like the newly established program in New Hanover, the DEAR program in Durham County, or the Restoration program in Orange County, can significantly reduce the gap between the number of people who are eligible for criminal record relief and those who access the relief.

Other North Carolina counties should take a stand for second chances and fund similar record relief programs. The Fair Chance Criminal Justice Project at the North Carolina Justice Center is dedicated to sharing resources and providing research that can assist the genesis of these programs.

The  Fair Chance Criminal Justice Project is an issue area of the NC Justice Center that is dedicated to identifying the ways the criminal legal system perpetuates poverty in the state. They work with directly impacted people, concerned residents, and decision-makers to change unfair practices and policies. The mission of the Fair Chance Criminal Justice Project is to make the criminal legal system fairer from arrest to reentry.