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Program lets first-time, non-violent offenders clear name

After graduating from a program that assists with the expungement of criminal records of first- time, non-violent offenders, Philanese Stokes skipped out of the Leighton Criminal Courthouse late Wednesday afternoon.

“It’s not a good look,” the 23-year-old said of the credit card forgery arrest that kept her from getting one of the 50 jobs she applied to last year.

But now that Stokes will have a clean slate when she starts massage therapy school next month, the South Sider says she has only one thing to look forward to: a “bright” future.

Through legislation Gov. Pat Quinn signed late last month, counties throughout the state will be allowed to start rehabilitation programs for first-time, non-violent offenders patterned after the initiative started by Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez in last year.

“It’s something that can be imitated elsewhere in Illinois to great effect. We want to have the situation where people don’t have to go to prison. . . . Justice involves your heart and your head,” the governor said at the news conference flanked by Alvarez and other lawmakers.

The elected officials stood by Wednesday as Stokes and 13 others graduated to Pomp and Circumstance playing from a prosecutor’s iPhone.

“We all make mistakes,” Judge Jackie Portman told the group. “This mistake should not define you. This mistake should not limit you.”

Without the program, Jasmine Beanland, 26, said she “would have to change my goals and dreams.”

The Englewood resident, who was also arrested for forgery, says she is grateful she can move toward obtaining her nursing and medical degrees without explaining “what happened and why it happened.”

The program in Cook County has saved taxpayers $1.1 million, Alvarez said.

So far, 645 have been accepted into the program and of those, 257 people have fulfilled their requirements.

All participants in the rehabilitative service are required to be employed or do community service, continue their education, enter drug and alcohol rehab programs if eligible, and pay restitution to victims who must agree with the less severe form of punishment, Alvarez said.

To date, nobody one who has graduated from the Cook County program has re-offended, officials said.

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