Terralynn King had just started a new job at a nursing home. Her boss had shown her her locker and introduced her to her coworkers. Later that same day they let her go.
“I didn’t even work a whole day,” King said. “It was embarrassing.”
The reason for the layoff was a background check that came back with decades-old charges related to her drinking, said King, who said she has been in recovery for 21 years.
Fulton County hopes to help people like King clear old arrests off the publicly available record, and help them keep the jobs they’ve earned, with an Oct. 1 event to expunge some records. On Thursday, the county will hold a pre-screening to help people see if they are eligible.
Fulton County Chairman John Eaves estimated as many as 5,000 people could be helped by the event.
“There are a lot of people out there who made a mistake somewhere in the past,” he said. “They have tried to move on, but they have a blemish on their record.”
One of those is Rose Hampton. Like King, she is a recovering addict. More than 10 years ago, Hampton was arrested on drug charges by Atlanta police. The charges were dismissed, she said. But just last month, she was turned down for a job as a certified nursing assistant because the arrests appeared during her background check.
“It’s really aggravating, really depressing,” Hampton said. “We all have a past. None of us is perfect.”
Carmen Smith, Fulton County’s solicitor general, said there are “tons of records” that were not properly documented. In many cases, charges were dismissed or never prosecuted, but the arrests still show up.
With the Oct. 1 event, she said, the county won’t be getting rid of any convictions. In fact, people who have been convicted of crimes are not eligible to have their records restricted.
But those who were arrested but not convicted can have those arrests restricted from their official criminal history report that is publicly accessible. They will still be visible to law enforcement.
“Arrest and conviction is not the same thing,” Smith said.
The county has been trying to improve its criminal justice system, and Eaves said the event will help improve opportunities for people who are caught in “no man’s land.” Arrest records can hinder people’s ability to get jobs, student loans or apartments.
“It’s designed to give people a second chance,” he said. “It increases the likelihood of them being productive citizens.”
Only people who were arrested in Atlanta or by Fulton County officers or sheriff’s deputies are eligible for the Records Restriction Summit. People arrested in cities like Roswell or College Park, or outside Fulton County, can still get their records restricted, but are not eligible for the Oct. 1 event.
The event will be held from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Martin Luther King Sr. Community Resources Complex at 101 Jackson St. in Atlanta. Participants should bring valid photo ID and their arrest records, if they have them.
On Thursday, people will be able to come to the complex at 6 p.m. to be pre-screened, to see if they are eligible to have their arrests restricted or expunged.
King, who said she has gone on public assistance in the past because her arrest was a barrier to employment, was drunk and charged with disorderly conduct in her 20s. Now 52, she has long been sober and wishes she could move past those indiscretions.
“How can you start over if society don’t let you stop living in the past?” she asked. “I’m not the same person. I shouldn’t have to keep paying.”
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