Fort Worth

Tarrant County DA program offers young offenders a chance to get records expunged

A young man knew that his arrest after stealing from his workplace would impact his future.

But it didn’t dawn on him until he didn’t get a data entry job at a bank that he really wanted.

“The reality of it hit me when I had applied to a job and I had the aptitude to do well in that job,” he said. “I had the interview and it was great and the last thing was a background check. They were supposed to call me back and they never called me back.”

Having an arrest record makes it extremely difficult for young people like him, who was 18 at the time of his arrest, to get a job or even find a place to live. So his attorney referred him to the Tarrant County Deferred Prosecution Program (DPP), a program that allows young offenders to rehabilitate themselves without a criminal conviction.

Successful completion of the program qualifies participants for immediate record expunction.

The name of the DPP graduate was not used to protect his identity after his record was expunged. Since completing the four-month program in May 2017, he is now a student at the University of Texas at Arlington studying computer engineering.

Former District Attorney Doug Crouch had started the Court of No Record program in 1960, which was the predecessor of today’s DPP. According to a report about DPP from 1975, the Court of No Record program did not have any guidelines or eligibility requirements and decisions were made on an ad-hoc basis at the discretion of each assistant district attorney. An individual in the program would just be placed on probation until the statute of limitations expired on his or her offense.

Then former DA Tim Curry was elected in 1972 and took over the program. In the summer of 1973, Curry saw the need to formally establish guidelines and eligibility requirements. However, the same report from 1975 found that minority participation was low. A rule that made anyone with a prior arrest ineligible was particularly limiting.

“It is a widely known fact that the arrest and conviction rates in our society are higher for blacks than for whites; thus, fewer blacks arrested are likely to be first offenders,” the report said.

When Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson took office in 2015, she and her team restructured the program to remove that rule, raise the age limit from 21 to 24, extend the application period and simplify the application process.

“The problem always was that there were fewer minorities... they were the ones who needed it the most and needed a break,” Wilson said. “DPP has always been for people who could change their own behavior. They may have broken the law, but given a little bit of structure and awareness, they could change their own behavior.”

As a result of these changes to the program, participation from people of color has been at least 60 percent since 2015. DPP coordinator Lori Leeth said the changes have allowed older young offenders the opportunity to get their records expunged.

“Most of our participants are still 17 or 18 years old because as people get older, they’re supposed to be making better choices,” Leeth said. “We don’t have a large pool of 24 year olds but we do have some who would not have otherwise been eligible to apply.”

Leeth said she keeps tabs on all of the graduates of the program to make sure they don’t re-offend. A total of 1,381 young adults have graduated from the program since the amendments were made in 2015 and only about three percent (29) have committed another crime.

The 20-year-old UTA student now works full time as a software developer while going to school. Although he’s worked hard since completing DPP, he said the program is beneficial to people like him and gave him a second chance.

“You have to be able and willing to help yourself,” he said.

The program requirements can be viewed here:

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