Memphis will match funds for expungement of non-violent offenders

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, along with State Representative Raumesh Akbari and District Attorney General Amy Weirich, announced May 24 that donations to the Better Memphis Fund, which pays record expungement costs for people who have committed nonviolent crimes, will be matched dollar-for-dollar up to a total of $25,000 thanks to a grant from Speer Charitable Trust.

“As I knew during the campaign and as I’ve really come to learn as an elected official, expunging people’s records is important in so many ways. First, it helps people find jobs or a better job, and then secondly it just helps with self-esteem and wanting to clear their record even if there’s no monetary gain in it for them,” said Strickland.

Non-violent offenders are eligible for expungement if they have not been arrested in the past five years. The current $450 court cost for expungement has proved prohibitive for hundreds of people.

Akbari recently sponsored a successful bill, which was supported and lobbied for by Mayor Strickland, to lower expungement fees to $180.

“When I first started campaigning in 2013, a lot of people who I tried to engage with in the community couldn’t vote simply because they had not expunged their records,” said Akbari, who hopes her bill might be signed by Governor Haslam in the next few weeks. “For me the bottom line was this: I don’t want anybody to have to suffer for the consequences of their actions on their worst day. If we can get them back to work, if we can get them moving forward and actually being a part of society instead of being a burden to society, then I think we can reduce our recidivism rate and overall improve our communities in Memphis.”

Beneficiaries of the Better Memphis Fund also receive job and soft skills training from the city’s Workforce Investment Network.

A fundraiser for the Better Memphis Fund will be held June 5 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Hattiloo Theatre in Midtown. A similar fundraiser was held in March of last year, raising $55,000 that had already helped pay for approximately 80 expungements.

In addition to the June 5 event, donations can be made to the fund online through the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis, and 100 percent of donations are used for expungements.

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Read more articles by Michael Waddell.

Michael Waddell is a native Memphian who returned to Memphis several years ago after working for nearly a decade in San Diego and St. Petersburg, Fla., as a writer, editor and graphic designer. His work over the past few years has been featured in The Memphis Daily News, Memphis Bioworks Magazine, Memphis Crossroads, the New York Daily News and the New York Post. Contact Michael.