The Internet is failing 77 million Americans with a criminal record. If you are one of those Americans, you may have been arrested, but never charged with a crime, prosecuted, or found guilty. Still, your name appears in a criminal database potentially costing you a job, housing, or government services. This scarlet letter disproportionately plagues minority communities.
One recent study found that 49 percent of African American men are arrested by 23. Further, this criminal-record penalty is twice as likely to punish black job seekers as it is white ones. This penalty also has fiscal ramifications: by one account, criminal records as a hurdle to employment cost the U.S. economy up to $65 billion each year. Affecting one-in-four Americans, this is a national problem.
For many, expungement can help, but it is not DIY-friendly. Expungement removes criminal records from public databases, but the law is confusing, often riddled with subtle qualifications and legal nuance. Legal-aid providers help navigate this labyrinth, but can only meet 20 percent of low-income legal needs nationwide. There is also private legal help, but it is often cost prohibitive and excludes those that need assistance the most.