Expungement resources now online from Papillon Foundation

143_PapillonLogo_Black.aiMost people with a criminal record have a general understanding of the value of expunging or sealing their criminal records.  However, figuring out how to actually obtain such relief in a particular jurisdiction, and understanding its specific effects, is not so easy.  The Papillon Foundation aims to change that by offering practical internet-based information about the process for obtaining expungement and sealing in all 50 states. We spoke with the Foundation’s founder Alan Courtney not long ago to find out more about how the Foundation helps people clean up their record and take charge of their past.   

Prior to 2008, Alan Courtney was an California attorney. As a specialist in transactional law, he had no particular experience with the obstacles faced by those trying to rebuild their lives after a criminal conviction. That all changed in 2008 when Courtney found himself behind bars for a white-collar felony conviction. There, Courtney witnessed firsthand how difficult overcoming those obstacles can be and how hopeless the prospects of those faced with them can seem. He recalls:

Over and over again, inmates would tell stories of how they could not get a job, could not go to school, could not get housing, could not provide for their families, and how their lives were doomed.  Family members spoke of the harshness and severity of not only the prison, but life after.

Upon his release in 2011, Courtney was faced with some of the challenges he had heard so much about from his fellow inmates.   No longer able to practice law, he decided to devote much of his time to helping others overcome the barriers to reentry. The Foundation, a non-profit organization founded by Courtney and his wife, was the result of those efforts.  Its primary mission is to provide free information to help individuals expunge or seal their criminal records and mitigate the collateral consequences that accompany them.  As expressed on its website, the Foundation’s goal is to “create a compassionate opportunity for people who want to clean up their criminal record for a fresh beginning.”

To Courtney, offering those of limited means the tools and materials they need to seek relief on their own is essential to fostering hope in the face of the uncertainty posed by reentry. The Foundation’s name reflects this sentiment: “Papillon” is the name of the titular character in the 1973 film that depicts a man’s unshakable will to survive while incarcerated in a hellish French prison colony.

The Foundation’s presence is largely virtual, the cornerstone of the organization being its expansive website that provides a wealth of practical information about record-sealing in all U.S. states and territories, as well as many foreign jurisdictions. For those looking to leave their criminal histories in the past, the site’s go-to pages are the easy to understand summaries of each state’s relief mechanisms and eligibility standards. These summaries are supplemented by a long list of links to official instructions, forms, and statutes as well as links to state-specific how-to guides and contact information for legal aid organizations.

To provide an example of the exhaustiveness of these resources, the California page contains 13 links to expungement self-help guides, 41 links to county-specific forms and instructions, 21 links legal aid and reentry organizations, links to official state-wide sealing and clemency forms, and instructions on how to request copies of your own record, among many other things. The site also provides “know your rights” information about private criminal record providers, contact information for advocacy resources, and a number of relevant studies and reports.

To someone visiting the site for the first time, the amount of information available can be overwhelming; but if you’re looking for usable information to guide you through the expungement or sealing process, there’s a good chance you’ll find it here by digging around a bit.  Fortunately, Courtney tells us that the website will soon be updated with a new design that will make it easier for people to find the forms and instructions necessary to clear their criminal record.

Courtney is careful to emphasize that the Foundation does not provide legal advice or referrals to lawyer, though the site does have a list of legal aid organizations who do restoration of rights work.

The Papillon Foundation’s website is a truly impressive resource, and we will be watching its future growth and development. An obligatory word of caution, though: Our own experience maintaining the state-by-state resources posted on the CCRC has shown that keeping abreast of all of the legal developments regarding expungement, sealing, and other relief is a monumental task. This is a complex area of the law, and it is one that seems to be in a constant state of flux. As such, those interested in obtaining relief would be well-advised to seek legal advice, from a legal aid office or clean slate clinic for those of limited means, to make sure than any information from unofficial sources is accurate and up to date.