State Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth's expungement summits the past two years have had the makings of a powerful tradition for part of central Illinois.

Last year, about 250 people who had low-level convictions — but then paid their debt to society and kept their records clean for years — used the help at the first summit to go through the process to get their convictions erased from their record. In July, more than 300 people took part in the second summit at the Peoria Civic Center.

That's a huge step for the participants, and a huge step forward for the Peoria economy because the extensive process with paperwork and hearings — not a quick fix and not for those who quit easily — opens the doors to better employment.

Criminal records are a stumbling block when trying to get good, solid, head-of-household jobs, which are desperately needed in parts of Gordon-Booth's district where the statistics for poverty and unemployment are among the worst in the state.

Without this opportunity, the chance at jobs with most health care employers and with top manufacturers in the area is virtually nil. That’s a high price to pay for a poor decision that’s been paid for. Some people at the July summit had charges from as far back as the 1970s that were still affecting their chances of employment.

"Most people that go to an expungement summit, they're working. But they realize they're trapped in a cycle of poverty," says Gordon-Booth, a Peoria Democrat from the 92nd District.

Plenty of people preach the importance of offering a leg up rather than a handout. Gordon-Booth's summit has helped turn that into reality again this year for hundreds more.

But these efforts are just a start at tackling the problem.

There's such extensive demand that Gordon-Booth has had to limit participation only to those living within her district.

While the need there is substantial, it's hardly the only place in the region where people could benefit.

Central Illinois' other legislators — on both sides of the river and of the aisle — would do well to emulate her work, individually or together, for their own constituents and host similar expungement events.

These legislators should learn from Gordon-Booth on how to best work with state and local resources and volunteers with help from law enforcement and attorneys to spread the word that they are there to aid those who paid their debt to society and want to improve their lot in life.

It’s the right thing to do.