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On Mondays in July Iowa Public Radio’s talk show team examines some of the most pressing work and employment issues Iowans face. Tune in at 10 am and 12 noon and join the conversation.

Linn County Seeks To Seal Criminal Records, Combat Poverty After Incarceration

Michael Coghlan via flickr creative commons
Linn County advocates are hosting a legal aid clinic to help lift former inmates out of poverty.

Linn County officials and non-profit organizations want to help former inmates re-enter society. An upcoming expungement clinic is aimed at helping Iowans work past their criminal records.

Lawyers, advocates and social service providers are coming together to help seal criminal records, and break down barriers to housing and employment. They’ll also offer advice on handling issues with drivers' licenses, paying off court debts and regaining civil rights.

Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker is helping organize the session. He says the clinic is meant to "level the playing field" for those who have paid their debts to society.

"What we learned was that often times a driving force for poverty is that individuals with criminal records were unable to get jobs," Walker said.

Walker says Iowa's criminal justice system disproportionately targets people of color, furthering "institutional harm" that can keep some impoverished. The next step to breaking these cycles of poverty Walker says, is to recruit more employers to hire people with records.

“If you can’t get a job because of your criminal background, you’re not going to qualify for housing. If you don’t have any place to live, you don’t have a job then it’s just really hard to do life," Walker said. "That’s a no brainer.”

According to a University of Iowa analysis, African Americans make up about 3 percent of the state's overall population, but more than a quarter of the state's prison population.

The clinic is scheduled for Saturday at 10 am in at the Linn County General Assistance Center on 26th Avenue Court SW in Cedar Rapids. 

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter