by Dylan Deprey
Teenagers who break the law get tickets. Driving tickets, drinking tickets, theft tickets, drug tickets, parking tickets, the list goes on and on. Often, they will pay the fine, feel bad for a while and go on their way. While some tickets can be forgettable, they can haunt those in the future.
This was just the case for Francesca Yerks. She was a 17-year-old single mother working a low-income part-time job at a retail store. She wanted a nice shirt like everybody else had. She stole the shirt. She got caught. Then, she paid the ticket.
“I was born in a good family. I knew my right from wrong,” Yerks said. “I was embarrassed.”
Fast-forward two years: Yerks applied at a prestigious bank in Milwaukee. She was denied the position.
“Some young people have in their mind that everything is wiped away once they turn 18 years old,” Yerks said.
When the bank pulled up her criminal history report, the two-year-old theft ticket on her record was a red flag for the company.
Yerks has not been the only young adult in this situation. It happens frequently in the city of Milwaukee.
It was announced during a meeting on Monday, May 2, that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Department of Justice awarded the collaborative effort of the Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee and Legal Action of Wisconsin’s Juvenile Re-Entry Assistance Program (JRAP) $100,000 in their efforts in providing legal services to juveniles.
With this grant, Legal Action of Wisconsin will expand their services to people who are currently using or seeking public housing.
“Legal action will focus its representation on those areas that most impact employability, like forfeiture and juvenile expungement,” Donahue said
During the meeting, Mayor Tom Barrett addressed two Milwaukee issues that the grant would include.
He noted that after meeting with municipal court judges, he was surprised at the lack of young men of color attending their court hearings.
“By skipping the hearing you are scheduled to attend, you have put yourself in the worst possible situation,” Barrett said.
He offered that many people who have skipped out on court do not realize that they could work with the municipal court judges on ways to avoid paying fines, such as by doing community service.
The second issue Barrett addressed was the increasing number of evictions in the City of Milwaukee.
“I’ve seen far too many times people get into a negative hold on their life, where it is hard to work themselves out of problems,” Barrett said. “What we want to do is go upstream and help them before they have those problems.”
Yerks was one of these people. Although she had paid her debt to society, the grey cloud of a theft ticket loomed overhead. She sought out the assistance of Attorney Christine Donahoe to be an advocate for her in court.
“There are a lot of people in her (Yerks) position who might not be able to get that cleared, but an attorney can advocate and hit the big points for the judge,” Donahue said.
Donahoe was able to get the ticket dismissed as well as send that information to the state. Now, if a potential employer were to pull her criminal history report, it would be blank.
“If you have a bunch of applicants, and one person has a report but the other person doesn’t, you are going to go with the person with no criminal history found,” Donahue said. “I think this made a huge difference for her.”
At age 22, Yerks’ slate was wiped clean. After, she received a call back from the bank and got the job.
Now at 24, she is a mother of two and has recently obtained a job as a laborer with the City of Milwaukee.
“I think if I tried to do this by myself, without Christine, I probably would have never got the ticket expunged,” Yerks said.