The Lamoille Restorative Center has already helped innumerable people avoid facing the full force of the court system by shepherding them through court diversion and other similar programs.
Last week, the criminal records of 64 people were wiped clean at an expungement clinic that is the largest ever held in Vermont so far, according to restorative center executive director Heather Hobart.
“The need is there, for sure!” Hobart wrote in a text message this week.
So much need, in fact, that the center is already booked this week with 20 more people who went to Friday’s clinic but didn’t get a chance to finish the process.
And Hobart said the center is already planning a second clinic at some point.
Expungement is a legal process that removes a crime from an offender’s past, leaving no trace at the courts or the police station. It’s earned particular renown in Vermont in recent years as the state relaxed its cannabis laws, allowing people with misdemeanor convictions involving then-illegal marijuana to get rid of those convictions.
Friday’s clinic featured about 20 people, including lawyers from Vermont Legal Aid, the state attorney general's office and restorative center staff. Attorney General T.J. Donovan was also there, and he personally wiped clean numerous criminal convictions.
Donovan said criminal convictions have inordinately marginalized the rural poor, and there’s an economic benefit to expungement, when people’s past records don’t come up anymore during job searches. Mom or dad can chaperone a school field trip without worrying about a black mark showing up in a background check, or travel freely without worrying..
“No judge or prosecutor ever intended for a criminal record to limit people from economic opportunity or engaging with their family or taking care of their kids,” Donovan said.
Tricia Laramee of Stowe said she once upon a time found herself in the revolving door of the criminal justice system via a misdemeanor pot possession charge. Her records were cleared last week.
She owns her own massage business, but she said her convictions — “because of who I was” — have limited her in many aspects of her and her family’s life.
“This is a gift, just to be free of this ball and chain, when you’re not the same person you used to be,” she said.
Laramee sat in an office as Donovan pulled her file up on a laptop, and disposed of those charges on the same laptop. As he worked, Laramee’s demeanor changed enough so it was palpable to those in the room.
When he pushed one final button on the screen to finish the job, she teared up and her mouth quivered as she spoke.
“I wish I could just tell you how I feel,” she said. “All of this is so new, and so much more can open. This is just…”
Her words trailed off for a minute .... “Awesome.”
Updated to clarify the number of people involved in expunging people's convictions.