Guilty or not, criminal records hinder one-in-four Americans from finding jobs, housing, and accessing services. The FBI’s master criminal database includes 77.7 million names, and adds about ten to twelve thousand names each day. Criminal records also trigger thousands of collateral consequences that continue to hurt individuals well after their contact with the criminal justice system is over. Many who suffer these negative consequences were arrested but never charged, charged but never prosecuted, or prosecuted but never convicted. Put simply, these laws are hurting innocent people.
These problems are not new, but expungement assistance has been slow to move online. Google Trends shows that people are looking for help on the internet, but pro-bono legal providers are not often there to meet them.
ExpungeMaryland.org was created for a Baltimore non-profit. It’s a web-app that connects people who need expungement help with volunteer lawyers.
Since creating ExpungeMaryland, bar associations, legal service providers, and state supreme court access to justice commissions have reached out to use tech to improve access to expungement in their states. It turns out Maryland's problems around expungement are not unique, and this tool can be helpful in jurisdictions around the country.
In 2016, we helped the Mississippi Access to Justice Commission develop a tool they can use offline for their legal clinics around the state. In partnership with SIMLab, we wrote a report analyzing the impact and experience of six expungement tools around the country to help determine a more effective way forward for similar projects.