15 March, 2011

Hey my dears! I just wanted to give you a quick update on what I've been up to in the past few weeks. The annual Mission Year Gala was held two weeks ago at the beautiful Callanwolde Arts Center. There's something magical about the big mansion, which was built in the 1920s. I felt like I might accidentally walk through a doorway and find myself in Narnia. The event was a fundraiser and had great music, food, photos, and a silent auction.

Could you find Narnia in there?

The reception hall

One of the gorgeous rooms set up for a silent auction

Last Wednesday, I went in for more medical testing. I had 3 MRIs, an echocardiogram, and a 24-hour halter monitor. The echocardiogram was actually kind of fun. I felt like a pregnant woman except instead of looking at a blurry black and white picture of a baby, it was my heart, pumping away. The other tests weren't too bad, except I had to get two separate IVs! :( My poor inner elbow... (does it actually have a name??) I'll go back to the doctor's office on the 31st for all the results.

This weekend, the Atlanta Mission Year teams volunteered at a big conference. It was pretty fun, but slightly chaotic. We had the opportunity to attend some of the workshops. I went to a really good one about the differences between ministering to Urban Youth and Suburban Youth, as well as a workshop on helping urban children and teens who have been abused.

I'm not sure if I mentioned it before, but Green My Hood (my new service site) is sponsoring a community beautification project - a 661-foot-long mural along the main road in our neighborhood. On Saturday morning, over one hundred people came out to help pick up trash, tame abandoned lots, and prime the big wall in preparation for the mural. Unfortunately, my team and I were unable to be there because we were at the conference. But I was excited nonetheless that so many people were willing to help make a difference in our neighborhood! And they did indeed make a huge difference. The mural hasn't even been painted yet, but the pale-yellow primer already has had a brightening affect in the neighborhood! I'll soon post some pictures to give you a better idea of what my neighborhood looks like!

After the conference on Saturday, my team and I returned to our neighborhood and helped set up for the Green My Hood Neighborhood Donor Night. This event was a reception for people in the community who have donated to the mural project. There was wine, cheese, and desserts, all made delicious by the presence of some wonderful people.

The donor night, held at our local coffee shop

In other exciting news, two days last week, I was able to go with some of our attorneys to the capitol building to listen to the Judiciary Sub-Committee Meeting and the hearing for House Bill 402. This is a bill that will change access to criminal records so that people who have been found "Not Guilty" of charges won't be haunted by them for the rest of their lives. One of our attorneys has played a major part in shaping this bill and getting it this far along in the process. The following article, written by the Executive Director here at the Georgia Justice Project, was published yesterday's Atlanta Business Chronicle! This has been a big part of the work at GJP lately and I just wanted to share it with you! Enjoy!


By Guest Columnist DOUGLAS B. AMMAR, executive director of the Georgia Justice Project

I believe that the business community should support House Bill 402. This bill will help thousands of men and women in Georgia who are struggling to find work and support their families.

With the unemployment numbers released last week we know just how challenging it is for anyone to find a job in Georgia right now. It can be nearly impossible if you have a criminal record, even if you were never convicted.

This bill will address part of that problem by making it easier for people who have charges on their criminal history that did not result in a conviction to get back to work, becoming tax payers rather than tax burdens.

HB 402 was unanimously passed by a subcommittee of the Judicial Non-Civil Committee last week, with support from both Democrats and Republicans. Under the bill, arrests would automatically be deleted from an individual’s official Georgia criminal history if the charges were dismissed or not prosecuted, or if an individual is found not guilty at trial.

This automated system would replace our current process called expungement which is inefficient and costly. It costs $50 to get an arrest record expunged, more if you hire an attorney, and can take over a year. Many Georgians who are out of work can’t afford the fees and they can’t afford to wait.

Many people don’t realize that even if you aren’t convicted of a charge the arrest stays on your record indefinitely for employers to see. Studies have shown that employers overwhelmingly consider arrests even when charges were dismissed.

From the employer’s perspective this may be understandable – when you see a charge on an applicant’s criminal history a red flag goes up. Even though we believe in innocent until proven guilty, we don’t always know how to decipher these reports and how we can or should use this information.

This bill will alleviate that concern because only convictions and pending charges would appear on the report.

Our current expungement law was drafted in a time when our personal privacy couldn’t be violated by a quick search on the internet. Now it’s time for our laws to catch up with technology.

How many of us want a 20-year-old arrest which was thrown out for lack of evidence haunting us for the rest of our lives? Every day in the Georgia Justice Project office we talk to folks who are putting in employment application after application only to be told that an old arrest is the reason they are not hired. They don’t know where to turn for support. Our small office can only help a very limited number of people so we are supporting this change in the law that will help thousands.

Public safety is not at risk under this bill. In fact, I think the opposite is true. First of all, police officers and prosecutors will always have access to every arrest record as they do now even when charges are expunged.

Actually, public safety will be enhanced because unfortunately when an individual cannot find work they are much more likely to commit a crime. This is an opportunity to stop the cycle of crime and incarceration before it starts by removing a significant barrier to employment.

An additional benefit of this new automated process is that it will free up criminal justice resources. Currently each of the over 600 arresting agencies in Georgia has to accept expungement applications and individual prosecutors have to review them, this process diverts time and scarce resources from fighting violent crime in our communities, something we can’t afford to do right now.

In a time when we are making difficult decisions about spending and budgets, we need to support measures that will save money while reducing crime. I believe House Bill 402 does just that.

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