Automatic Record Clearance

Working with communities and government to transform the way services are delivered to those impacted by the criminal legal system
Illustration of an adult helping a child with homework at the kitchen table

Our team works with state governments and communities to fundamentally transform the process of record clearance.

A criminal record creates lifetime barriers for people trying to move forward with their lives, meet basic needs, and thrive in their chosen field. We’re working to help solve this issue by partnering with courts, criminal history repositories, executive branch agencies in state governments, policymakers, and advocacy groups to design and implement record clearance policies. Our goal is to make automatic record clearance—where all eligible criminal records are cleared automatically and without burden—the standard across the country.

With technology and people-centered design, automatic record clearance helps put people with criminal records and their families first—and is more efficient for states. Our services for states include technical evaluation, guidance on data infrastructure, support for bulk data processing, qualitative and quantitative research and analysis, digital service software development, business intelligence software consulting, and more.

The importance of record clearance

One in three people in the U.S. today have a criminal record that appears on a routine background check. Decades of federal, state, and local criminal legal system policies and practices—like the War on Drugs and mass incarceration—disproportionately targeting Black people and people of color have made it so that criminal records are more common in these communities. A criminal record can be a life sentence to poverty, creating barriers to jobs, housing, education, and more. These barriers create ripple effects for generations: nearly half of all U.S. children have at least one parent with a criminal record. This reality causes negative consequences for a child’s cognitive development, school performance, and even employment outcomes in adulthood.

Nearly every state has existing laws that allow people to seal or clear their criminal record after a crime-free period. Unfortunately, the petition process to clear criminal records in most states is complicated and burdensome—and often costly. For people with low incomes, the expensive legal assistance and court fees can make this process impossible. As a result, only a tiny fraction of people eligible for expungement or sealing ever obtain the relief they need. Tens of millions of people are blocked from moving forward with their lives.

At Code for America, we believe that government at all levels can and should work dramatically better than it does today. That’s why, with our experience and learnings, we work with state governments to remove these burdens by streamlining and automating the record clearance process.

Clear My Record

In 2016, we launched an online intake tool to connect people with the legal aid they need to navigate California’s expungement process. With this tool, our team helped 22,000 people get connected to legal aid services. But we also saw firsthand how the petition-based process wasn’t working. We wanted to go beyond tweaking the status quo to re-envision the whole process of record clearance so that it would be accessible to anyone and everyone who needs it. So in 2018, we shifted our focus to automatic record clearance.

Icon of a sunrise
Clean Slate policy
Clean Slate policy paves a path to clear eligible convictions, automatically.
Icon of a check mark in a circle
Clear My Record
provides technology, data, and design services to help government implement Clean Slate policy.
Icon of a courthouse
Courts & Repositories
update records to reflect relief granted.
Icon showing many people
Millions of people
can get the job or housing they were previously blocked from.

Clear My Record works with communities and helps state governments leverage technology and human-centered design to advance automatic record clearance. The goal of this work is to clear all eligible criminal records in the U.S.

After we realized petition-based processes couldn’t scale to meet current need, we partnered with the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office to create a process for automatic record clearance. We developed technology that reads criminal history data, determines eligibility for relief under state law, and produces the necessary documentation for courts. This work expanded to become a first-of-its-kind partnership with five District Attorneys’ Offices in California.

Screenshot of the clearmyrecord.org homepage

When the state passed a new cannabis record clearance law, we released the technology to District Attorneys statewide. The free, open-source application combs through criminal history data to find people eligible for record clearance—at a speed of up to 10,000 eligible convictions per minute. To date, Clear My Record technology has helped identify 144,000 records for clearance—two-thirds of all eligible cannabis convictions in California.

Clear My Record technology has helped identify more than
144,000
records for clearance.

This work became part of a new era for record clearance policies in America. We began to see a future in which eligible records would be cleared automatically as a routine function of government. To get there, we needed to think big, and our work in California showed that it was possible.

Code for America became a steering committee member of the Clean Slate Initiative. This bipartisan national movement supports state legislative campaigns to replace petition-based record clearance processes with automated clearance processes. The initiative also works to expand the number and types of records eligible to be cleared.

Automatic record clearance, also known as “Clean Slate” policies, are now in place in states like Pennsylvania, Utah, and Michigan. But there is still work to be done. More policies need to change across the country to fundamentally improve the process of record clearance.

With the right policies and conscious use of technology, government can deliver impact at the scale we need. Ultimately, this work is not just about creating efficient ways to change criminal record data. It is about changing lives.

ClearMyRecord.org

ClearMyRecord.org is a free online tool that helps people in select counties in California navigate the complicated journey to clearing their record. Clients fill out a 10-minute online application and get connected with a public defender or legal aid attorney who can handle the case in the relevant county. Since April 2016, this tool has connected over 22,000 people with attorneys in 14 California counties.

Access the online tool

Brigades

Our team often partners with local volunteer Brigades in the broader Code for America Network. We align on projects aimed at decarceration, decriminalization, and removing barriers for people impacted by the criminal legal system. Brigades have created impactful record clearance tools for use in Boston, Portland, Vermont, and more. These tools help legal aid practitioners assist people in removing convictions from their records, so they have a better chance to get good jobs, housing, education, family life, and more.

Learn more

Communities inform everything we do

Government can only improve if we engage with the communities directly impacted by these policies. We spend time with people who have criminal records and their families to understand how criminal records impact their lives—and how to make record clearance more accessible. The goal of our qualitative research is to infuse the experiences of the people we serve into our process, the products and services we create, and the policies we seek to influence.

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