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Frank Gray

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Andre Patterson, leader of the Fort Wayne Commission on the Social Status of African-American Males, works to publicize the Second Chance Act.

What is Second Chance Act?

My old friend Foundation One called, very excited about a recent law that might finally give some people a chance to live down their criminal pasts.

Lots of people have felony convictions for crimes they committed when they were young and stupid.

The problem with a criminal record like that is that it stays with you for the rest of your life and often prevents you from finding a job.

Foundation says he sees it “every day, all day.”

That’s why he was anxious to tell me about a panel discussion/seminar that is coming up Thursday to tell people about something called the Second Chance Act.

The law was originally passed in 2011 but an updated version became effective July 1 and allows people who were charged with a felony but never convicted to have their records expunged. It also allows people who were convicted of some felonies to have their records sealed or expunged if they have not been arrested for a crime for a certain number of years.

The problem is that many people either don’t know about the law or don’t understand it, said Andre Patterson, chair of the Fort Wayne Commission on the Social Status of African American Males. “I’ve spoken to several attorneys, and they don’t understand it.”

“Many have made a mistake several years ago, and that is a roadblock to getting that job,” said Patterson, a former Fort Wayne Fury player who is also outreach coordinator for the Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs at IPFW.

“People make youthful mistakes, and they shouldn’t have to pay for it for the rest of their lives.”

The panel discussions are from 10 to 11:30 a.m. Thursday in the Walb Student Union ballroom and 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Turner Chapel at 836 E. Jefferson Blvd.

People on the panel will include state legislators who wrote the bill and some attorneys who will be able to answer questions, Patterson said.

It’s an important issue, especially if you have a felony. “There are a high number of African American males who do have felonies they got when they were extremely young and made youthful mistakes,” Patterson said.

Those felonies might include convictions for drug possession or drunken driving.

Patterson said that because of the economy a lot of people are going back to school, but some might get a degree and discover that because of an old felony they still can’t get a job.

“If people can’t get jobs and these things are holding them back, ultimately they have to live in poverty,” Patterson said.

“That causes more violence and more frustrations. We have to remedy some of the problems.”

The new law, apparently, allows people to have more records sealed than before. The old law allowed people to expunge or seal class D felony convictions if they had not been arrested for several years after having completed their sentence. The new law, it appears, allows some records of more serious felonies to be sealed if certain criteria are met.

Patterson is urging people to show up, from other attorneys, community leaders and grass-roots organizations to, yes, people with felonies.

“We need to fill the place,” Patterson said.

“This is our opportunity. A lot of people don’t know about it.”

Forgiving past felonies might not sit well with a lot of people, especially when someone has been convicted of a serious, violent crime.

But it helps to remember that not all felonies are heinous.

Two Purdue football players, for example, were arrested last month for allegedly attempting to steal two $20 tie bars from a department store.

They were charged with felonies.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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