We also had the chance to sit down with community partners from the Carroll County Police Department, Chief Joel Richards and Sgt. Meredith Browning, and discuss why record restriction events are so important, why they chose to partner with GJP to make this event happen, and how vital community partnerships are to helping more Georgians access record restriction and sealing resources.
Could you introduce yourself and your role in Carroll County?
(MB): Meredith Browning, Carrollton Police Department Public Affairs.
(JR): Joel Richards, police chief for the City of Carrollton Police Department.
We’d love to hear more about the recent record restriction event that we hosted with you all in Carrollton. How did you prepare for and participate in this event?
(JR): So, we host a Pastor's luncheon once a month with local pastors and some community leaders, and there was a woman there from the Rouse Foundation that asked if we would consider doing this. We had talked about it prior to COVID, but it had gotten put on the back burner. So, we came together, and we had a meeting – and this is what Meredith’s so good at, so when she agreed to take on the task, we started having our initial meetings with Bob Jackson from the reentry program, and Deidre Rouse from the Rouse Foundation. Bob is the one who introduced us to Paige Jann with Georgia Justice Project, and quite frankly – I mean, Meredith did all of the work for us, and without you guys, without Paige, I don’t think it would have happened the way that it did, with you guiding us in the way that we were supposed to handle the backgrounds and things like that. It really was a collaboration – no one person made it a success. We had our elected State Court Solicitor sit there all day, and the DA’s office committed to have one ADA and one personnel staff at the event for the entire time. I saw people coming together and working as a team to make it happen. I don’t have anything to compare it to as far as how successful it was, but I did see the raw numbers, and I was very impressed.
(MB): There was a little team that Joel got together, and we met periodically. It was a huge learning curve for everybody, because none of us had participated in anything like that. Deidre, who he was referring to, had been to an event, and she just raved about it, so that’s how it got started. But like Joel said, Paige babysat us the whole way, and we appreciated that very much.
Why was this event important for you all to participate in, and why is record restriction so important for communities in Georgia?
(JR): Well, Meredith and I are both about giving people a second chance. We believe that people should have those opportunities, and just because you made a mistake in the past – and even though you can get your voting rights back, there’s still that element of, yeah, we forgive you, but we don’t forget. And so, when it comes to employment and housing, there’s not an equal opportunity. It’s not equal in housing when you have that one thing that’s just hanging over your head and that’s keeping you from being gainfully employed. It only benefits our community when you’re able to be a productive member of our society and of our community. So, it’s important for us to do our part in giving people some dignity back, and to help them to be able to go and apply for a job, whatever it may be that they want to do, and not have that one thing that haunts them from their past. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to do it – I believe that we all make mistakes. Some of us get caught, and some of us don’t, and these men and women don’t need that one thing following them for the rest of their life if it’s something that’s eligible to be restricted and sealed. It’s done for a reason, and we were glad to do our part to help do that.
(MB): He and I both grew up in this community, and when you know people's history and you know that they aren’t bad people – and of course, there are some things that shouldn’t be restricted, obviously, but the vast majority of people deserve that second chance, and, for me, this was just another opportunity for them to come face to face with some of us and to realize that we aren’t against you, even though it might seem that way on a day-to-day basis. Here, we’re participating in something to try to help you get a job, and get housing, those kinds of things. There’s two very special stories for me that were there, and as Joel say, we’re both just compassionate about this and want to show up. I mean, Joel was there all day, too, and people see that and appreciate that. That’s what we want to be known for – we’re going to get out there and we’re going to do our job. If you did something and you needed to go to jail, you go to jail, but does it have to haunt you forever? No.
Would you mind sharing more about those two stories you mentioned?
(MB): Yeah. We did online pre-registration, and we had no idea who would be applying for this, but when they would register it would come to my email and the team would get the paperwork worked out. Well, there was a name there that popped up, and he and I grew up together went to school together. I told you I moved here the summer before fourth grade, and we met in fourth grade. We were in the same homeroom class, so we grew up together. And when we were younger, he accidentally shot and killed his brother. It was a total accident, but it was the beginning of a downward spiral, and he ended up getting involved in drugs and being in and out of jail. One night, I was on patrol, and I had to arrest him – he went to prison for many years, and it was this arrest that sent him there. That was probably the hardest arrest I have ever made. I didn’t feel like he shouldn’t have gone to jail, but it was really tough, and the difference was, I knew what had happened in his life to start this.
So, he went to prison and eventually got out. And I ran into him not too long ago and I think he was homeless, but he was starting to get things together, and he came to this event, and he was telling his wife that story. He’s like, when I went to prison, guess who put the handcuffs on? But it was all in good nature, it was nothing negative, and I don’t know specifically what was restricted off of his record, but he left very happy, and I think it was more than he expected out of it, and his wife, too, because she also had a record. So, they got to come and do that together, and I was just happy to see some joy in his life again.
And the other one was a woman we’ve known for years. When she was young, she started doing some things, and it was call after call. So, you know, she had a ton of stuff on her record, nothing crazy, but just constant. And so, she was the one who ended up leaving with almost nothing on her record. She was just flabbergasted, and I was too, to be quite honest. I was like, wow, who knew you could do that? So, anyways, those were the best two parts of that day, for me.
Why do you believe that these kinds of second chances are important not just for the people who are getting their record cleared, but for the entire community?
(JR): I think it’s important because it allows people to work, and be independent from the government or from other family members. We even had a couple potential employers show up, and one staffing agency. So I think things like that will benefit our overall community because it keeps the jails less populated and it allows people to become economically independent and a productive member of the community they live in.
(MB): I think as well that it reduces recidivism. If you’re given this opportunity, and you see, wow, they’re able to do this and now I don’t have these things on my record, I think it would give you a different mindset about making better decisions. In a way, it’s crime prevention.
I'd love to know if you have any advice for another community who might be wanting to do this type of event or any encouragement.
(MB): Don’t be intimidated or scared to jump into this, because I had no idea how this worked or what you had to do to make it happen before. I would say, reach out to Georgia Justice Project and get advice, because you all taught us, led us, and we got it done. It was very intimidating, because you don’t want to mess something like that up, but with you all, it was easy. It takes a lot of people willing to do some work, but if you’ve got the people who want it and people who are willing, it’s easy.
(JR): Yeah. I would say, don’t be prideful or embarrassed or afraid to say, we don’t know what we’re doing, and we need some help. That was us up front. I would say, check your motive while you’re doing it. We didn’t do this to bring prestige to us or anything like that. We really wanted to give back to the community and to help. So, I think if you’re doing it for the right reasons, and you have someone with organizational skills and some patience, and you put the right people in the right place, then you can do your part and get to step back and watch it all happen.
Are there any other reflections or thoughts you wanted to share on the event or on the topic of record restrictions and second chances?
(MB): For anybody who's willing to look at this and put something like this together – I mean, I've been in law enforcement for over 20 years, and there's a lot about record restriction that I didn’t know, or that we did know, but it wasn’t the same as it used to be. And I think this is great education, because, I’ll be honest, I felt kind of like I didn’t know something I maybe should have known, because whether it’s within an event or event outside an event, now, we have more education and knowledge to help people individually if we get those questions, and I would not have known that before. I’m looking forward to doing it again. And I just want to thank all of you again. For us, for the people who came to the event that live here, thank you.
(JR): I’d say the same. Thank you for all that the Georgia Justice Project did and to Paige and your staff. It was a pleasure to work with you all. And also, one tip I would give is if you’re going to do one of these events, make sure you feed all of the staff. We were ordering sandwiches last minute. [All laugh].