Students help draft expungement bill

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- A group of students from Soulsville Charter School helped draft a bill focused on helping people expunge their criminal records. They even presented it to a House subcommittee in Nashville.

They worked on this bill with Rep. Raumesh Akbari, who had already started the process.

The goal was to give people who have made mistakes a second chance at a bright future.

Some of the students are not even old enough to vote yet, but that is not stopping them from becoming a part of the legal process.

Student Veronica Parker said of the experience, "You're like, 'Oh my God. What are these people thinking?'"

After reading the book The New Jim Crow, members of the Soulsville debate class joined up with Akbari to help draft a bill to get rid of or lower the fee people have to pay to get their records expunged.

They traveled to Nashville and presented the bill themselves.

"We thought, ‘wouldn't it be great if we could actually get the kids some experience and try and change some of these things that we're reading about," John Alfuth, the debate coach for Soulsville Charter School, explained.

"Rep. Akbari helped us kind of connect the book to real life," Parker added.

Misdemeanor or Class E felony nonviolent offenders who have completed all requirements of their sentence and have no violent convictions are eligible for expungement.

It costs between $350 and $450, depending on where you live in the state.

Students said the bill would help those who cannot afford that cost.

"If the fee is reduced, people or teens will be able to get a higher education," Parker said.

Veronica Parker and Jada Mitchell were picked to present the bill to the House Subcommittee.

One of the biggest hurdles to passing the bill was funding.

"Other parts of the state use the money from expungement fees toward their issues," Jada Mitchell said.

Akbari said the state hoped fees from expungement would bring in around $6 million, but that has not been the case.

"It only gave $1 million in profit," Parker said.

Now the students will wait and see what is next with the bill. Whatever their futures hold, they said, after this experience they will always be focused on bettering their community.

"Whatever I do, I know it will make a great change," Mitchell said.

The bill will now go before the full Criminal Justice Committee.

Akbari told WREG the bill will be amended to ask that the fee be reduced by $100, not done away with entirely.