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Job Seekers Hope to Erase Past Mistakes

The few who attend a fair for ex-offenders learn that clearing their criminal records isn't always easy or possible.

July 10, 2005|Doug Smith | Times Staff Writer

It wasn't a huge crowd to begin with, about a dozen men and women -- and one baby -- seated on metal chairs under a canopy.

Most of them drifted away as the speaker went down the list of reasons "expungement" -- or the clearing of their criminal records -- might not work for them.

For starters, they would have to be off probation or out of county jail -- not prison -- for a year if they weren't given probation, said Nancy Cervantes, managing attorney for Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County.

Her advice was part of an ex-offender job fair on Saturday attended by hundreds that was sponsored by the Countywide Criminal Justice Coordination Committee, an advisory group to elected officials.

The inaugural fair in South Los Angeles last November was swamped with clients, so the agency joined with the LAPD's San Fernando Valley Coalition on Gangs to put on this second fair at Hansen Dam Recreation Center in Lakeview Terrace.

Whether it was the heat or the remoteness of the venue, many of the potential employers and vendors failed to show, including the tattoo removal service. The fair wasn't swarming with ex-offenders either, but those who did attend got plenty of face time with city and county employees who were eager to help.

One young man, previously imprisoned for a sex offense, got a half-hour interview with employment specialist Brad Carson of the Los Angeles County Department of Probation.

Carson gave him some tips on programs that make getting work easier at no cost to offenders by providing insurance and tax credits to the prospective employer. All he had to do, according to Carson, was go to the Employment Development office and fill out form 9062.

"The employer can get up to $8,500 because they hire you," Carson said.

The young man was energized. He said his first move would be to go see his parole officer in Pasadena to get a letter of referral to the Employment Development Department office in Canoga Park where he lives.

The sessions on expungement drew the most attention, but many of those who attended were disappointed.

Cervantes said an expungement does not erase the criminal record, but it allows a person who has been sent to jail or given probation to omit information about the conviction on an employment application.

Moreover, those who had served time in prison learned that they weren't eligible. The best they can do is apply for a certificate of rehabilitation after seven years.

In either case the conviction would remain on the record.

"I've been on parole for three years," a large man said to Cervantes. "You're telling me I have to wait at least seven years?"

"This don't make no sense at all to me," he said, stalking off.

Renisha Davis, who came all the way from Marina del Rey looking for work, said she didn't find many leads.

"I'm not a bad person," said Davis, who declined to specify her offense.

"I just did what I did. Now I'm trying to do something with myself. It's hard."

She said she has been out a year and found only one temporary job.

Her problem, she said, is giving up as soon as the employer demands a background check.

"I think I'm just afraid," she said. "I don't like rejection."

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