The Sealing and Expunction Process in Texas: Recommendations for Communities and Decision-Makers

Farah Merchant

This is the second and final blog in our two-part series on seeking record relief in Texas. You can access the first one here. Thanks for reading along!

In Texas, every single adult must apply to seal or expunge their record, whether they are innocent, their charges were dropped, or they have been crime-free for years. With a record relief process as complicated as ours, most rely on some form of assistance. This can create financial and legal barriers for qualifying Texans looking for avenues to seal their record. However, we can build structures off existing networks to make this process more accessible for deserving Texans. On a local level, community members can support current record relief services while advocating for comprehensive policies aimed to expand eligibility and reform the current process. Additionally, decision makers like businesses, landlords, educators, and legislators can evaluate and remove barriers that fail to serve their intended purpose. 

The Geographical Dilemma of Texas’ Law Schools

The one thing that underscores Texas’ challenges with providing legal assistance for record management is how inaccessible representation is across the state. For a state with 254 counties and over 29 million people, ensuring physical access to legal aid seems almost daunting and impossible, especially when the state only has 10 law schools, most of which are in the northeastern region of the state. 

Map of Texas with red dots indicating locations of law schools in the state

When law schools host and are involved in legal clinics, not only does it offer an avenue for record relief, but it also helps mold a future generation of lawyers who are actively working towards reducing recidivism in their communities. A criminal record is a barrier to re-entry, and access to record sealing reduces the likelihood that someone will re-offend. By expanding the types of cases students handle to include filing for non-disclosure and expunction relief, students and schools are doing their part to help promote empathy and community safety. 

Additionally, colleges and universities are among the many institutions that conduct background checks. Since higher education is often a gateway to better opportunities, if schools can’t overlook a history of legal involvement, then they should host and support clinics for record relief and extend these opportunities to impacted individuals in their communities. 

Law schools throughout Texas can help remedy this geographical gap by hosting Pro-Bono Spring Break trips in under-serviced areas where there isn’t an established law school. These Spring breaks improve community members access necessary services while facilitating connections between institutions and lawyers working in these areas. Students will be exposed to unique legal circumstances, a new cultural backdrop, and local organizations in regions they’ve never worked in. Additionally, residents in the area can volunteer at these clinics to help strengthen community well-being and support students in the legal journeys. If you’re interested in participating, you can stay up to date by subscribing to university email lists, following schools on social media, or simply reaching out through email and phone. 

Legislatively, it’s up to lawmakers to expand law school access to the Valley and West Texas either by building new schools or providing remote learning options. Although attempts have been made, none have succeeded to date. A 2021 bill to establish a new law school in the Rio Grande Valley failed to pass, as did another bill in 2023 that would have extended remote learning options in the Valley for first-year students at the University of Texas Law School.  

Community members can also play a role in addressing the legal shortcomings of their region by creating their own clinics. Even colleges without a law school have qualified professors and interested deans willing to host a clinic. Together, you can find a legal service provider to support these clinics or form your own group of volunteer lawyers and organizers. While this initiative isn’t easy, organizations like ours offer pro-bono assistance to help establish clinics, and, when sustainable, aim to hand them back to the community to continue operating. 

Support from Community Courts, Centers, and Elected Officials

Universities are not the only community-based solution to supporting local record relief efforts. Community courts and District Attorneys’ offices can partner to bridge their counties’ gap in record relief services. Harris County Courts launched their own quarterly Fresh Start record screening and sealing clinic to help eligible members file for record relief, and their most recent fair, alone, helped 70+ people begin the non-disclosure process. In Dallas and Travis County, annual Expunction Expos with the support of volunteer attorneys, law firms, and legal organizations have helped clear 882 criminal charges in Travis County since 2020 and grant 2,250 expunctions in Dallas county since 2017. To help your community courts or elected offices enact these clinics, attend District Attorney and District Clerk town hall meetings and voice your support for record relief services. These offices host annual meetings open to public comment. When opportunities like the clinics above present themselves, volunteer with the legal organizations who provide these services. Often, they need assistance with intake or registration, which don’t require a legal background.

Evaluate the Barriers Associated with Background Checks 

Decision makers have the power to remove barriers when they fail to serve their intended purpose.

More than 95% of incarcerated people return home. Yet, employers, landlords, and universities continue to use a criminal legal record to deny system-impacted people opportunities even when it’s no longer relevant. Research shows “most detected recidivism occurs within three years of an arrest and almost certainly within five years.” If someone remains crime-free for 5 years, they are no more likely to reoffend than the average adult. However, there is no empirical standard for when to overlook a record. While different types of employers will have different restrictions based on the populations served, “forty-seven percent of employment regulations specifically restrict people with any felony from being hired, not even specifying that the felony be categorized as violent.” Continuing to deny opportunities to people with a record can put them in precarious and sometimes dangerous situations. 

Employers in Texas have access to an untapped pool of workers, millions of them. Second Chance hiring will not only help resolve the labor shortage in this state but benefits both the business and individual. Since 2019, nearly 10% of JPMorgan Chase’s new hires in the U.S. have previous convictions with no bearing on their roles, and the company has been able to improve employee retention and strengthen communities. Additionally, eighty-two percent of managers report that the value second chance employees contribute is as high as, or higher than, that of workers without records.

Improve the Inaccuracies in Background Checks

Not only do current background checks deny opportunities to system-impacted folks seeking meaningful employment, they're not always accurate. Court data indicates that 51 percent of all state arrests lack final dispositions on whether a person was even convicted or charged. To remedy this issue, our Criminal Justice Project is working to evaluate these inaccuracies and the ways in which the consumer reporting process with regards to criminal background checks can be improved. Until there is legislative change to ensure background checks aren’t groundlessly used against unconvicted or rehabilitated Texans, businesses should evaluate each situation critically without automatically rejecting someone because they failed a background check. If someone is a strong candidate, ask them to explain their circumstances, and remember, after a certain point, a person’s record has no impact on their ability to remain crime-free.

The Benefit of Record Relief Legislation 

Supporting statewide record management reform can address many of the current shortcomings with the record relief process. Currently, only 6.5% of eligible recipients nationally successfully get their records cleared. The legal and financial barriers to apply keep Texans from a fair shot at redemption. However, passing a bill to automate the record relief process will no longer require the person seeking an order of nondisclosure to initiate the process, and will instead use technology to identify eligible records. Texas sees an estimated loss of $32 billion in annual earnings from Texans impacted by a record of conviction. Automation will help recoup some of these lost wages by allowing deserving Texans access to employment opportunities without the barrier of a record. Additionally, passing judicious eligibility expansion bills will allow more Texans fully discharged from their sentence who are not a threat to public safety to apply for record relief. People who receive record relief not only experience economic improvements, but they’re less likely to reoffend than the general population. Within 5 years, only 2.6% of recipients of record relief recipients were rearrested and less than 1% were reconvicted for violent crimes

Record relief legislation has strong research backing and public support. In a statewide poll conducted by Change Research, in consultation with WPA Intelligence, 2 in 3 registered voters in Texas, including both Democrats and Republicans, support automatic record-sealing, and more than 85% of every major partisan and ethnic group believes people should not be blocked from housing and jobs because they once committed a low-level offense. When the Texas legislature meets in 2025, show up – drop a card and testify in support of record relief bills. We and other advocacy organizations will post announcements for when these bills will be heard and open for testimony on our social media accounts. For those not based in Austin, call, visit, or send an email to your legislators’ offices letting them know you support non-disclosure and expunction bills. All representatives and senators have district offices in the towns they represent. Last year, all three record relief bills passed the House with bipartisan support. With public and legislative support, these bills can reform record management in Texas and provide rehabilitated Texans a way forward.


Currently, the process to access record relief is inaccessible. The financial cost and need for legal knowledge serves as barriers to Texans who continue to be denied employment, housing, and education because of their criminal legal record. While non-profits and other organizations offer low-cost opportunities to seal or clear one’s record, these services pose geographical and income restrictions. However, law schools, community courts, and elected officials can minimize these challenges by establishing pro-bono networks and hosting clinics in these under-serviced areas, and legislators can completely remove these hurdles by automating the current petition process and expanding record relief. As community members and decision makers work toward transforming Texas’ current record management system, businesses should implement better practices when using background checks. A record is not always representative of a person, and a past mistake is not a signal for a future one. We hope you’ll support our efforts toward building a robust workforce and economy while supporting effective reintegration efforts for system-impacted Texans.