A criminal record can have life-altering consequences beyond the incident itself. It may be difficult to find and keep a job, secure housing, obtain a student loan, or even volunteer in your child’s school. Collectively, we call these “collateral consequences,” or legal restrictions imposed upon people because of their record, and they affect one in three
Americans. This year, Washington state passed the New Hope Act, which makes it easier for people to have past convictions removed from their record so they can more easily be productive members of society.
Caitlin is one of the leaders of Open Seattle’s Conviction Vacation Project (CVP) which is focused on automating processes to determine eligibility for vacating criminal record convictions. Currently, lawyers have to undergo a very manual process to determine eligibility of removing charges from criminal records including multiple forms and submissions. By building a web app, CVP allows lawyers to collect information from individuals about past convictions and easily calculate whether someone is eligible to have their conviction removed from their record. Caitlin believes this will help more eligible people clear their criminal records, opening up greater opportunities in employment, housing, and reducing the risk of recidivism.
At the Hack To Give Thanks, the CVP team focused on auto-filling legal forms once the data is received in the web app. This will allow the web app to generate pdf versions of completed forms, which can then be e-filed in counties offering this service.
Next steps are to continue testing the app with prospective users, and to investigate the e-filing workflow. To learn more about the project, check out their profile on DemocracyLab or come to one of Open Seattle’s monthly meetings.