The South Suburban College “SSC” Paralegal Studies Program, located in the South Suburbs of Chicago, recently opened a pro-bono Paralegal Expungement Clinic that is the first of its kind in the Chicagoland area. Paralegal students work under the direction of Legal Aid Chicago attorneys to prepare expungement packets for graduates of the Problem-Solving Courts. The Clinic involves the participation of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office and the Law Office of the Cook County Public Defender to identify anticipated graduates of Cook County’s 5th and 6th District Problem-Solving Courts (Drug, Mental Health, and Veterans)—the community that SSC serves. The Cook County Problem-Solving Courts seek to help low level criminal defendants suffering from an underlying mental health, social, or substance abuse problem from becoming repeat offenders.
As volunteers in this Clinic, the SSC Paralegal students take part in a meaningful service-learning project to obtain practical, hands-on experience learning about court process and legal document generation. Students work with attorneys preparing expungement packets consisting of expungement petitions, notice to law enforcement, and court orders for community members who have successfully completed probation in a Cook County Problem-Solving Court.
Expungement of a criminal record aids in employment prospects, obtaining professional licensing, and obtaining loans – giving graduates of these programs a fresh start. The Clinic serves as a conduit to access to justice for these clients. This past January, after preparing an expungement packet for the graduates, under the supervision of Legal Aid Chicago attorneys, SSC Paralegal students attended the 5th Dist., Bridgeview Problem-Solving Courts graduation ceremony. Students were able to hear the lived experiences of addiction and mental health directly from their clients. Going forward, the SSC Paralegal Clinic volunteers intend repeat this impactful process this spring for 6th Dist. Markham Problem-Solving Court graduates.