Open Data Will Save Us All

A friend posted this app on Facebook today: is app created by a young woman named Cathy Deng to help people with a juvenile record navigate the expungement process to get their record sealed or erased.  As noted in this WBEZ story linked on the app’s website, there are a number of systemic barriers to expunging juvenile records in Cook County, and a juvenile record presents a significant barrier to employment later in life.

It isn’t just that ex-convicts need tools and support for re-entry–many people who were merely arrested–never convicted at all–need legal help afterwards. I’ve volunteered on and off (mostly off last year) for the last several years with Cabrini Green Legal Aid doing expungement work. The most common scenario I run across is a young woman, finishing nursing school, who finds she can’t get her license because an arrest for fighting over some guy in a bar when she was 19 is on her record. The second most common is a young man who ha suddenly found out that the reason he can’t get a job is some arrest he’d completely forgotten about kept turning up in pre-employment checks.

It feels like 4 out of every 5 people I talk to at the help desk has never been convicted of anything; their cases are dismissed. A reasonable number of the people with convictions have convictions so minor that they can still be expunged or sealed.

I thought this app was really neat. It’s not an overly complicated process, but the if/then decision tree can get a little dense, and it’s such a critically important step in rehabilitation and restoration to the community. I wish the Public Defender had decent funding and could make expungement petitions part of the course of normal representation for defendants who are acquitted or whose cases are dismissed.

That’s definitely a pipe dream–arrest records for cases can’t necessarily be expunged right away (if the state has leave to reinstate the case, for instance, you have to wait until that time has past) and probations that can be expunged have to be successfully completed. Juveniles have to grow up (I think they have to 17, but I have never done juvenile expungements).

I just wish that systems addresses their consequences better.

At any rate. The app was neat. Civic Hacking is neat. Won’t it be nice is data saves civilization?


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