Two funds for expungements in Memphis face two separate challenges

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. --Just City executive director Josh Spickler calls it the last hurdle.

"They have paid court costs, they have paid probation fees, they have done everything the system has asked of them, they've stayed out of any other trouble for at least five years," explained Spickler.

Many ex-offenders can't afford to pay the $450 necessary in Tennessee to have their records wiped clean; a move advocates say often leads to better employment and ultimately a fresh start in life.

That's where groups like Just City come in.

The non-profit runs the Clean Slate Fund, a program started by the Shelby County Public Defender's Office that pays expungement fees for ex-offenders.

In four years, the Clean Slate Fund has helped 130 people.

That's more than $58,000 worth of expungements.

Spickler explained, "It's getting people into jobs, more stable jobs. We've had elderly clients say I just wanted peace of mind; I didn't want to die knowing that I had this on my record."

However, last week, the Clean Slate Fund ran out of money.

Just City has now started a waiting list.

"We're essentially unable to do more expungements until we replenish this fund," said Spickler.

As Just City looks for more money, another group is looking for more people to apply.

Several months ago, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland raised nearly $60,000 in private donations for the Better Memphis Fund to pay for expungements.

So far, 18 people have had their records expunged, and another 24 are awaiting the check, pending the completion of a job training component.

The job training through the Workforce Investment Network is required, but Strickland says most applicants see that as a benefit.

He says they're hoping to spread the word because they need more people to apply.

"We're encouraging people if they know somebody or if they themselves want their record expunged, contact us, we'll even hook you up to try to get some job training or some soft skills, or some placement."

Spickler says research reveals Tennessee has the second-highest expungement cost in the nation, only behind Louisiana.

Representative Ramesh Akbari of Memphis introduced a bill last year to lower the costs, but it eventually failed.

Spickler says he expects the issue to come up again next year. In addition to a cost reduction, Spickler says Just City is ultimately interested in seeing comprehensive expungement reform in Tennessee.

Spickler says this would include expanding the types of offenses considered eligible for expungement.

Click here to reach Just City,  learn more about expungements or donate to the Clean Slate Fund.

Call 576-6203 to learn more about the Better Memphis Fund and eligibility requirements.