Highlights from 2022:
- Published a fully-functional web tool that Kansas attorneys can use to quickly and easily generate expungement forms for individuals at expungement events
- Tested the tool at five expungement clinics across Kansas
- Generated and submitted 92 expungement requests for 54 clinic attendees
- Began preparing the tool to be made available to non-attorney users starting in Spring/Summer 2023
For those who have been convicted of a crime, their criminal record can often haunt them long after they have served their time. A criminal record can make it difficult to find a job, secure housing, or obtain a loan. These challenges can make it difficult for individuals to find a stable situation and start fresh after their release. In Kansas, it is possible for most individuals with convictions to apply to have their records expunged so long as they have gone for several years without encountering any other legal troubles. However, this process can be complex, expensive, and time-consuming, which creates significant barriers for those seeking expungement.
Clear My Record is a project aimed at developing a simple web-based application that people with criminal convictions can use to determine if they are eligible to have their records expunged, and if so complete an expungement application they can file with the court.
The Kansas Clear My Record project began in 2021, building on previous work by KC Digital Drive and the University of Missouri – Kansas City School of Law to build a Missouri-focused expungement tool for pro bono lawyers and students. For the Kansas tool, the Clear My Record Team is collaborating with Kansas Legal Services (KLS) and the Wyandotte County District Attorney’s Office, and is being funded through a grant from the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC).
The Clear My Record team–led by attorney and UMKC adjunct professor Scott Stockwell, lead coder Paul Barham, and KC Digital Drive program analyst William Crumpler–started the project with a series of interviews in late 2021 aimed at understanding the current expungement process from the perspective of prosecutors, defense attorneys, court clerks, and KLS attorneys across Kansas.
Once these interviews were completed, in 2022 the team began developing a prototype application that KLS attorneys could test at public expungement clinics. These clinics are open events where individuals with criminal records are invited to come and receive free legal assistance in filling out their applications for expungement. To build the prototype, the team used Jotform – a low-code software platform for building interactive forms. Using Jotform allowed the team to quickly design a questionnaire that would take in information about an individual’s criminal record and output a properly formatted PDF file ready for printing and submission.
While the use of Jotform limited the degree to which the team was able to customize the look and feel of the experience, it made it significantly easier to rapidly iterate the tool’s design. Because the form could be quickly built and rebuilt on Jotform without needing to code an entire app from scratch, the team was able to move quickly to get a prototype up and running so that KLS attorneys could begin to test the tool in the field.
The first expungement clinic the team participated in was held in Emporia in June of 2022. There, the team engaged with six individuals, of whom two were determined to be eligible for expungement. With each of these two, the team observed as the applicants filled out the forms themselves, making careful observation of where they struggled or had questions. After the event, the team used these observations to make modifications to the form, re-designing the presentation and the flow according to the problems or opportunities they had identified.
Throughout the rest of 2022, the team continued this process of testing and iteration. After Emporia, the team tested the application at fall expungement clinics in Topeka, Manhattan, Leavenworth, and Kansas City, KS. Over the course of these clinics, the team processed a total of 93 expungement requests for 54 individuals.
After observing individuals use the form at the Kansas City, Kansas clinic, Clear My Record UX Designer Bree Walter reflected that
“As the User Experience Designer and Researcher on the project, I had the opportunity to shadow applicant users while they were completing expungement petitions using the tool. At the end of completing his paperwork, one user called his friends and encouraged them to use the tool to complete their expungement petitions as well. It was at that point I knew we had really created something meaningful.”
Over the course of 2022, the team also continued to expand the application’s functionality beyond simply printing out a petition for expungement. This included adding support for individuals looking to simultaneously apply to be removed from the Kansas Drug Offender Registry, adding the ability for low-income users to print a prepared form requesting that the court waive their filing fee, adding support for individuals who were never convicted of a crime, but who wish to expunge their arrest record, and adding a pre-clinic intake form that individuals could submit ahead of time to make it easier for attorneys at the clinics to look up their criminal history.
By the end of 2022, the Clear My Record team felt confident enough about the application’s design that they have begun finalizing the tool for a public release so that any individual in Kansas can access the tool at any time, rather than only during a scheduled expungement clinic. The team aims to have the application embedded in legal self-help centers across the state by the summer of 2023, and have a publicly available link to the form in multiple locations online.