CHICAGO, IL — A juvenile arrest record can leave a permanent scar, impacting everything from where you can work to where you can live. WGN’s Gaynor Hall introduces us to high school students who are using technology to help young people who have made mistakes in the past, get a fresh start with a clean record.
First degree murder, felony sex offenses, and driving under the influence charges are not eligible, but Cook County officials say the overwhelming majority of juvenile arrests in the county can be expunged. Most people who qualify though, are not filing for expungement. A group of students with the Mikva Challenge is tapping into technology to change that.
You can access it on your computer, your smartphone, or your tablet. The free web-based app, Expunge.io, launched in January. It is the brainchild of a group of Chicago-area high school students who serve on the Juvenile Justice Council for the Mikva Challenge.
“Basically, we came up with everything, except the coding,” said council member, Anna Travis.
The students started tackling the issue, over the summer.
“We wanted to know, why weren’t more youth filing for expungement,” said Jesus Medina, a senior at Washington High School.
Maybe some young people don’t know they can get their records wiped clean, perhaps they’re intimidated by the process, or worried they can’t afford it. Medina says they can’t afford not to.
“If you have a criminal record, there’s no doubt it will affect your employment options. It’s going to limit where you can work as well as when you’re applying to schools,” said Medina.
“Some people are arrested or taken to the station, never charged or not convicted or went to court and they think that it went away,” said the council’s director, Christopher Rudd. “Then, ten years down the road, they apply for something and it shows up.”
The students huddled around a conference table. “We’re teens. So we were looking at what do we use the most,” said Travis. Thinking of ways to use technology, the idea for Expunge.io was born.
“When you hear some of their ideas,” said Rudd. “It’s like why didn’t we think of that?”
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle gave it a thumbs up. The students researched juvenile expungement in Illinois, figured out a way to simplify the language, and Cathy Deng with the Smart Chicago Collaborative did the technical work of putting the app together.
“It’s very easy. Very well communicated. It’s not a difficult process,” said Travis.
You answer a series of questions, and if you’re eligible to apply, you’re asked to submit your contact information. A lawyer from the Legal Assistance Foundation will contact you to help begin the process, and can also provide information on getting expungement fees waived.
“It’s so exciting, truthfully. It’s making my life better by helping someone else’s. I’m so glad we got the chance to do this,” said Travis.
Anna Travis is a junior at King College Prep. She says getting involved in the creation of this app has helped her cope with the shooting death of her friend, Hadiya Pendleton.
“When youth are supported, though they might have committed the crime, if they have that support behind them with their best interest, it’s almost an incentive that they might not do it again. They got a second chance to better their life really,” said Travis.
So far, the council’s director says Expunge.io has gotten hundreds of hits and 19 people have started the juvenile expungement process through the app.
“The ideal goals or outcome would be more young people having a clean record with equal opportunities to move on in life, and to be successful productive citizens in our city,” said Rudd.
Expungement does not keep the courts or the Department of Corrections from accessing a juvenile record, but it can remove barriers for employment, housing, and even getting a student loan.
“This will definitely revolutionize the juvenile justice system,” said Medina.
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By Gaynor Hall/WGN News