by Cherri Gregg
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Thousands of veterans are dealing with the collateral damage of criminal pasts. So today, local groups teamed up to help those who served get a clean slate.
The production line at the DiSorbs Systems Plant in North Philadelphia was transformed into an expungement clinic Tuesday, manned by volunteers attorneys.
They helped dozens of service men and women clear old arrests and non-convictions from their public records in Pennsylvania.
“It doesn’t show who I actually am as a man and as a person,” says Ted Smith of West Philadelphia.
The 36-year-old is a veteran of the army. He is a father of three, leads his neighborhood association, and even ran for state representative in his local district.
The Central High School grad says even with all of his leadership skills, he’s been barred from jobs because of a five year old arrest.
“I can’t move forward in life to get a career versus a job,” he says, “I’ve been given a no on at least two occasions because of that arrest even though all of the charges were dismissed.’
“The collateral consequences with regard to housing, and licensing, and all of that attaches even to non-conviction data,” says Ryan Hancock, co-founder of Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity.
The organization expunges thousands of records each year and provided the volunteers for Tuesday’s event.
Hancock says Pennsylvania laws need to change and become more progressive to include automatic expungements of arrests that do not result in charges or convictions, as well as for all non-convictions.
He says the problem is even though employers can only legally use conviction information, in practice, anything on a criminal record can cause stigma.
“Anyone including his neighbors can pull up his record and see he was arrested,” Hancock says, “it has an impact.”
Like in the case of Guy Leadum, an army vet who today is a welder that repairs Navy ships.
He has been unable to get a driver’s license because of a 1999 DUI arrest.
“I’m innocent, but it keeps coming up,” says Leadum, who got a not guilty on the charge 16 years ago.
Ironically, Leadum has several high level clearances at his military job.
“I love working on the ships, I love the people,” he says, “I use SEPTA and my bike to get to work- but now I just want this off [my record] so I can get my driver’s license.”
Host DiSorbs Systems, Inc. is one of the companies in Philadelphia that has implemented a program that reduces the stigma of a criminal record.
The waste management supply company has a workforce where 70% of the employees are veterans and an even higher percent are returning citizens.
“We need to take care of our veterans,” says Ted McLaughlin, DiSorbs CEO and a veteran of the Navy. “If we don’t, people won’t volunteer for the service- and if people don’t volunteer we’ll have to have a draft– and nobody wants the draft.”
McLaughlin says returning citizens and veterans have been a great investment.
“These employees are so dedicated and so appreciated for the opportunity for a good paying job that they are, for the most, part excellent employees,” he says.
Roughly 300,000 Philadelphians are said to have criminal records.