September 26, 2014

South Carolina Center for Fathers and Families speaks to state lawmakers about expungement of criminal records

How far should the state of South Carolina go to give accused criminals a second chance? About 30 percent of state residents have a criminal record of some sort, according to Chelsea Clark, a law clerk with the South Carolina Center for Fathers and Families who spoke to a subcommittee of state lawmakers in late August.

Executive Director Pat Littlejohn also addressed the committee, which is considering expanding the type of crimes that can be expunged from a person’s record. Littlejohn stressed that record expungement is overly complex and difficult for the poor to obtain. Aside from the $300 fee, well out of reach for many fathers in the center's programs, expungement law is scattered in bits and pieces through different parts of state code.

The South Carolina Center for Fathers and Families created a guide to expungement last year to help fathers navigate the process.

Littlejohn said that not everyone should be eligible for expungement, but that it should be accessible under the right circumstances, and when the person in question poses no danger to society.

But, the project faces long odds, with law enforcement objecting and the governor already having vetoed a similar effort. As reported in The State:

The most divergent points of view were offered by longtime victims' rights advocate Laura Hudson, whose statements contrasted with those by Patricia Littlejohn, executive director of the S.C. Center for Fathers and Families.

“Don’t forget the victims,” Hudson told panel members, saying she opposes expanding the state’s current expungement law any further. Then, speaking of criminals, she quoted the Bible, saying, “By their fruits you shall know them.”

Littlejohn, speaking for ex-convicts who are trying to go straight and provide support for their families, said, “Many want to provide for their children but can't because of their inability to gain employment. Having a criminal record is a major barrier.”

The South Carolina Center for Fathers and Families is a ministry of the Sisters of Charity Health System.

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