More people in Baltimore than any city in the country search Google for information on getting criminal records expunged, but activists found the the results offering advice on how to wipe clean old arrests pretty unhelpful.
So, they decided to launch their own app to walk people through the process in the hopes that simplifying how expungement works could help people with arrest records get jobs. A beta version of the app, Expunge Maryland, went live this week.
Users of the app can either pull their records from the judiciary's case search system, or follow instructions on how to get their complete rap sheet from the state. From there, the app asks a series of questions to figure out if the record can be expunged.
At the end of the process, it takes the user to a form to fill out that will be sent to an attorney who can provide free or low-cost help in making an expungement application with the courts.
Jason Tashea, who works for the nonprofit that developed the app, said it is the first statewide expungement tool in the country.
In Maryland cases ending in a conviction cannot be wiped away, but Tashea said even charges that are later dropped can hurt someone's job prospects because employers are not always aware of the distinction.
"The difference of a good outcome versus a bad outcome is often an unseen differentiation in regards to hiring," he said in an email. "I’ve come in contact with people in Baltimore that missed out on employment opportunities because of an expungeable incident on her criminal record."
In recent years, legislators and officials in Maryland have been seeking ways to soften the blow of having an arrest record.
The Baltimore City Council, for example, passed legislation known as "ban the box," which limits employers' ability to conduct background checks on job candidates. And prosecutors offices around the state have been exploring ways to stop minor drug arrests becoming a conviction.