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Nonprofit organization assists individuals with criminal records

pixabay/Creative Commons
pixabay/Creative Commons

In January, a new pilot legal clinic called Beyond Guilt Hawai‘i will open at the William S. Richardson School of Law at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa.

Beyond Guilt Hawai‘i will offer legal assistance and partner with social work programs to connect formerly incarcerated people with reentry programs. The organization will also help train law students in the area of criminal justice.

Jennifer Brown is the Associate Director of the Hawai‘i Innocence Project and the co-founder of Beyond Guilt Hawai‘i.

She explains some of the legal services that will be offered at the new pilot clinic.

"Some of that might include clemency, doing a petition for a pardon if we feel that a client has a charge on their record that they no longer serve and is preventing them from getting jobs and housing and things of that nature."

"We also want to look at compassionate release, kind of speaking about the kūpuna. So people that were sentenced years and years and years ago that are no longer a threat to public safety but they’re still incarcerated," Brown told HPR.

Besides clemency and compassionate release, Beyond Guilt Hawai‘i will assist people with expungements and court case sealing, and parole.

The clinic is modeled after Ohio Justice and Policy Center’s Beyond Guilt.

Hawaiʻi Innocence Project Co-Director Kenneth Lawson reached out to the group in Ohio to pilot a similar program locally.

After practicing law in Ohio for 20 years, Lawson was incarcerated for illegal drug use. He became addicted to painkillers after sustaining an injury.

He was disbarred and lost his housing and car.

After serving time, he was released to Mahoney Hale — Hawaiʻi’s former federal halfway house.

"I was blessed and I was lucky. But there’s many people who came out of prison just like me, who went back because they could not find employment, and turned back to the streets. Who went back because they had no hope," he said.

"We have to get to a point in our society where we say, 'You paid your debt. You don’t owe us no more. You paid your due.' And part of that is, 'How long do I have to be punished?'” Lawson said.

The new clinic will not only provide services for previously and currently incarcerated people, but will also help meet the legislative and reform goals recognized by the Hawai‘i Prison Oversight Commission, HCR 85 Task Force, and Department of Public Safety.

Beyond Guilt Hawaiʻi will open in January 2022.

For more information or to submit an application for services, visit their website.

Zoe Dym was a news producer at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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