JACKSONVILLE – A pro bono program for juvenile offenders who
have completed the State Attorney’s Office’s diversion program, which began as a
collaboration between Florida Coastal School of Law and the Center for Legal
Rights, has blossomed into a new joint effort that links the city, the State
Attorney’s Office, Florida Coastal, the Duval County Clerk of Courts, the
Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and Jacksonville Area Legal Aid.
Florida Coastal School of Law professor Michelle Hawthorne
said eight of her students provide legal representation under the newly dubbed
Seal/Expunge Project for Young Offenders.
“This was something for the kids that really wasn’t being
done in Jacksonville,” Hawthorne told the Florida
Hawthorne said her students have already processed 50 or 60
kids in the program that ran in the summer and fall “that wouldn’t have been
Hawthorne said many juvenile offenders and their families do
not realize that once the diversion program is completed, an application still
needs to be completed. She said she spoke with the mother of one program
participant who attempted to fill out the required documentation herself after
attorneys said they would charge her $1,500 to $3,000 for their services. The
other program participants were beginning the application process from scratch.
“The kids and the parents were so appreciative,” Hawthorne
said. “The feedback’s been very positive.”
In addition, Hawthorne said the program has started a
conversation in Jacksonville about the need to reform the juvenile justice
Hawthorne said The Jax Journey, which covers the kids’
application fees, makes juvenile justice reform a top priority.
Other than The Jax Journey’s contribution of the application
fees, Hawthorne said the program is truly a pro bono effort.
“All of my services are in-kind,” she said.
Also, Hawthorne said the work has really helped the law
students who work with the juvenile offenders through the program.
Specifically, she said it helps them appreciate that “when you have a law
degree, you have to give back to the community.”
Hawthorne said she hopes other attorneys in the Jacksonville
area will learn about the program and offer their services in the future.
The larger collaboration was launched on Dec. 7, and is
geared toward helping juvenile offenders who have finished the diversion
program and are now exploring their educational and employment opportunities, Jacksonville
Legal Aid pro bono director Kathy Para said in a piece she wrote about the
program for the Jacksonville Daily Record.
Para said the final session of the diversion
program activities is when Hawthorne and her students give the diversion program
participants information about the process of expunging and/or sealing their
juvenile criminal records.
In addition to completing the application required by the
Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the sheriff’s office completes fingerprint
cards for the participants at this session.
“The goal of the project is to help eliminate the barrier
caused by a criminal record and to encourage these young people to continue on
a path to a productive and rewarding future,” Para said in the article.