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February 2023 Update: Now called the Redeem Project through partnership with Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic, this program has become a permanent offering where students can gain practical legal studies experience.
Criminal record expungement allows people with criminal convictions who meet eligibility requirements to start over with a clean slate, helping them to overcome barriers to seeking stable employment and housing. Students have the opportunity to gain experience in practical legal studies with the Redeem Project's practicum partnership with Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic, an outreach program that helps local individuals in Grant County file for criminal record expungement. Supervised by trained professionals, students help people understand eligibility and navigate the paperwork process.
Each of the 100+ areas of study at Taylor University is rooted in our mission, which is to develop servant-leaders marked with a passion to minister Christ’s redemptive love, grace, and truth to a world in need. Students are encouraged to embody servant-leadership as they move forward in their majors. Junior Zane Callison is doing that right now through his practicum with Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic. Along with two other Taylor students, (David VanDyke ’25 and Isabelle Armour ’23) he’s offering local visitors much-needed assistance with criminal record expungement.
When someone is convicted of a crime, even a simple misdemeanor, that criminal record can have a significant impact on their life for decades, long after any jail time or fines have been paid. They may not be able to get a stable job, be denied housing, lose voting rights, face travel restrictions, and experience other limitations that can trap them in poverty with little hope that their circumstances might change.
For some convictions, people can seek criminal record expungement, which, after certain requirements have been fulfilled, can allow them to have their criminal records sealed or removed completely. They’re able to start over with a clean slate.
Indiana has one of the most progressive statutes in the country that allows people to petition for expungement on their own. But navigating the system and figuring out paperwork requirements can be daunting, plus resolving outstanding court costs can be beyond the reach of many.
Callison’s interest in criminal expungement goes back to an internship he had during the summer of his freshman year. Retired Taylor professor Abby Kuzma had founded Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic in Indianapolis, which offered compassionate legal help to underserved communities. At the same time Callison was working for Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic, he was also doing an internship for an attorney. He saw firsthand how people can become trapped by their criminal past, despite their efforts to reintegrate into broader society.
“You can make an argument that individuals with criminal histories are not really treated as equal citizens,” said Callison, a double major in Politics & Law and Political Studies, Philosophy, and Economics. “I thought, “How are we expecting people to reintegrate into normal life when we're holding this as a barrier in front of them?”
When the opportunity came to offer the same services through Mercy Unleashed, a nonprofit organization in Marion, Callison worked with Political Studies professor Dr. Jakob Miller and Kuzma to create a plan for him and other students to do a Taylor-sanctioned practicum, which fulfills an academic requirement for their majors.
“It’s immensely fulfilling and inspiring to see our students taking what they learned in the classroom and impacting real lives,” said Miller. “This is exactly the mission of Taylor, and things like this are the reason I love my job.”
Callison invests about 12 hours a week at Mercy Unleashed, working with visitors who have been referred to the organization or have made appointments themselves. The team helps visitors navigate the paperwork process, which can cost up to $3,000 through a private attorney. They also help clients find court cost waivers and other services that can help to expedite the process. The visitors then file the paperwork themselves and file in court as an individual.
Grant County, where Marion and Taylor are located, and where Callison himself grew up, suffers from the absence of once-prevalent manufacturing jobs, high rates of drug use, and elevated poverty rates. Nearly 28% of Marion’s population lives below the poverty line. With a goal to serve 50 clients this academic year, Callison sees his work as having a direct impact on helping people get back on their feet and into a life filled with hope.
“I think expungement has very strong biblical roots in terms of showing Christ's redemptive work to others and forgiveness,” said Callison. “Indiana’s statute is known colloquially as the Second Chance law. It’s society offering forgiveness and that second chance, which is similar to what Christ offers to us.”
According to Miller, criminal justice reform is an area of rare bipartisan support, offering yet another aspect of hope in our society, as both main political parties are invested in helping people rebuild their lives after they have done the hard work of restitution from crimes committed.
Almost every area of study at Taylor requires at least one practicum or internship, because we believe that one of the best ways to be prepared for a future career is the combination of classroom study and direct practice.
“This kind of hands-on work in the legal field is very valuable both for gaining admission to law school and also deciding if a student really wants to work and pursue a future vocation in law,” said Miller.
For Callison, his practicum work has been a good corollary to the high-level academic study of law in the classroom.
“It’s a really good way to see what the law looks like to the average person,” he said. “It makes the theoretical tangible, giving you a good ground level understanding of law.”
Callison’s future plans do include law school, either immediately after graduation or within two years. He’s considering taking on a public policy fellowship, either in state or federal government in order to give him more professional experience to bring to the table when he applies to law school. Taylor graduates’ law school acceptance rate is over 99%.
Outside of his studies and practicum, Callison is also a student-athlete, running both cross-country and track & field for Taylor. Even with his heavy schedule, he’s managed to find balance. When he was considering coming to Taylor, track & field coach Dr. Quinn White reassured him that he would be able to pursue all his interests, and he helped Callison make it work.
“It’s a distinguishing factor of Taylor that you’re seen as a whole person. I was encouraged to move ahead with the criminal expungement program, because athletics, academics, and helping people are not viewed as being in conflict in any way,” said Callison.
Taylor has a variety of targeted tracks in the History, Global, and Political Studies Department that can prepare you for future careers in law, public service, or politics. Grounded in research, analysis, critical thinking, and truth seeking, students develop fresh insights and perspectives that join textbook knowledge with global realities and a compassion-filled Christian worldview. Schedule your campus visit to learn more.