The Legal Aid Chicago Criminal Records Relief Petitions App (“App”) was built by Chapman’s practice innovations team using a tech platform called Community.lawyer.
Illinois legalized cannabis on January 1, 2020, and added numerous marijuana-related arrests and convictions to the list of offenses that may be expunged or sealed. While no one knows how many people are affected by the new laws, a study from the Heartland Alliance in 2020 revealed that 365,069 people were convicted of drug crimes in Illinois in the past 40 years. And since 1979, 3.3 million people in Illinois have been convicted of a crime.
Even though not all convictions are eligible for expungement, a vast number are. And the process is extremely complicated – even lawyers have trouble understanding the forms. “The language on these forms is not intuitive and in one case consists of a string of double negatives,” said Melissa Picciola, Legal Aid Chicago’s director of volunteer services. “Pre-COVID, I would walk around the room while pro bono attorneys were preparing the petitions and work with them on figuring out which boxes to check.”
The App walks individuals through the process of drafting expungement and sealing petitions. It has guidance text and reformulates some of the questions into plain language, law360.com reports.
It is expected that the App will speed up the expungement process. Picciola estimates that the App will cut in half the three to four hours previously required to prepare an application/petition. The App will make the process easier and less daunting for volunteer attorneys who can now complete more petitions per shift.
Expungement of records can remove restrictions on housing, employment, and other participation in society. It is also a racial justice issue as Black people comprise only 13.8% of Illinois’ adult population but account for 28.9% of the population with a criminal conviction.
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