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Chicago Thu Jan 23 2014
Thousands of people in Cook County are eligible to get their criminal records expunged, but only a handful actually do.
Many adults with criminal records as youth are unfamiliar with how the expungement process works, according to Daniel O'Neil, executive director of Smart Chicago Collaborative. This matters -- these adults have difficulty finding jobs and gaining access to school or housing, for instance.
Mikva Challenge and Smart Chicago Collaborative think these adults deserve a second chance. That's where Expunge.io comes in. The web app, created in partnership between the two organizations, launched on January 7 and as of last Friday, 14 users were found eligible for expungement.
The way the app works is simple. The user answers a series of questions to find out first if he or she qualifies to get records expunged. A pro bono lawyer follows up to finish the process. If users are found not to qualify, other resources and online links are given that aid in employment search.
Youth themselves helped come up with the idea for the app.
This past summer, Mikva Challenge's Juvenile Justice Council investigated juvenile detention practices and policies and they presented their recommendations to local policy makers in August. Christopher Rudd, of Mikva Challenge, said that the topic of employment continuously came up. "How do we help young people reenter the community after being incarcerated?"
Rudd said that 1,600 people have visited the app since it's been live. Visitors have come from across the country and world. He said e-mails have been pouring in from leaders and organizations in California and in Pennsylvania on how the idea behind Expunge.io can be transferred to their locales. The app is only applicable to Illinois law.
A third of the app's users are between the ages of 25-34, which is about the target age the organizations were intending to reach, according to Rudd. Another chunk comes from the 18-25 range.
To promote outreach, the organizations are relying on word-of-mouth, with high school students doing the legwork in talking to one another about how convenient the expungement process is. Fliers are going up on the ground in communities where youth and adults are likely to benefit from the app.
The two organizations, along with web developer Cathy Deng, spent six months working on this app. Visit the website for more information.