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D.C. residents who have been arrested, charged, or convicted of an offense can now more easily start the process of sealing those records thanks to a recently launched website called Clean Slate DC. It offers residents an easy-to-use question-and-answer system to help determine if their criminal records are eligible for sealing.
Re-Entry Rebuilding Coalition members Shannon Reid and Briane Cornish developed the site, having started last November during a hackathon hosted by Mission: Launch, one of the original member organizations of the coalition. Laurin Hodge, founder of Mission: Launch, says Clean Slate was the sole project that reached fruition from seven “prototype designs” that addressed a multitude of problems regarding D.C. criminal records.
“[The hackathon] kind of speaks to what can happen when you invite the general public in to hear what some of the problems are in their community, and then they’ll… come together and work, in this case on a volunteer basis, to create a tech solution that actually improves the outcomes in their city,” Hodge says, noting that “one in four Americans has an arrest or conviction record, so it’s kind of a really big issue across the country.”
Shannon Redd—project manager, legal counsel, and re-entry coordinator for Mission: Launch—compares a sealed record to “one that is under lock and key, and only people with the right key can access those records.” Depending on the level of seal, a record can be totally inaccessible to everyone, including law enforcement except by court order. A lower-level seal allows specific employers—namely schools, health care providers, military, financial institutions, and child care providers, plus the police—to gain access.
The process is complicated, and the website helps individuals navigate the maze of qualifications that determine a record’s eligibility (though they still may need to meet with a lawyer if the website is inconclusive). Additionally, a number of barriers still remain to those seeking to seal: A person can’t use the site if he doesn’t have a copy of his criminal record, for example, and obtaining a copy requires a visit to both the D.C. Superior Court and the Metropolitan Police Department headquarters.
If Clean Slate is able to determine eligibility for records, the next step will take individuals back to the court (along with an attorney), where they will have to file a motion to seal. A hearing for this type of motion is not required, but can be requested by the court. After a motion is granted, Redd recommends that individuals contact the court six weeks later to ensure that those records have indeed been sealed.
D.C. Superior Court can only seal District criminal records, not federal ones. The D.C. Council passed a bill last October granting eligibility for sealing non-violent, marijuana-related crimes.
For the next phase of development, Clean Slate’s programming team has been brainstorming ways to improve document access and security.
“When you think of all the channels you have to go through in terms of support and D.C. government and how they handle everything, it’s a question of how do we get them to release documents to us instead of making people physically go to a basement to ask for them?” Redd told City Paper. “How can we digitize it without it backfiring and hurting someone because, if they can access their criminal record, employers may be able to get to it, too, without people knowing.”