Dec 7, 2023 - News

New app helps Arizonans clear criminal records

A woman stands at a lectern and speaks into a microphone next to five people sitting on a stage.

Rasa Legal CEO Noella Sudbury leads a second-chance discussion with (from left) Ryan Thornell, Brandy Smith, Kurt Altman, Nyra Jordan and Kevin Robinson at Watts College. Photo: Jeremy Duda/Axios

Arizonans who want help sealing criminal records have a tool at their disposal thanks to a newly available web application from a Utah-based tech company.

Driving the news: Rasa Legal on Wednesday launched its app in Arizona in conjunction with a record clearance clinic and fair at ASU's Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions. The company also led a panel discussion on second-chance hiring.

  • The app launched in Utah in September 2022, and Arizona is its second state.
  • People often lack information on how to seal or expunge their records, as well as the data they need to do it, Rasa Legal founder and CEO Noella Sudbury tells Axios Phoenix.
  • "It's so overwhelming. There's often costs to records. People just immediately give up. So what the application is focused on is making that question of eligibility for record clearance easy," she says.

How it works: Users enter their names, birthdates, and information about whether they're on probation or parole, have ongoing cases and whether they've previously expunged criminal records.

  • The app provides records on cases, organized by felonies, misdemeanors, marijuana changes and traffic citations, and tells the user whether and when each will be eligible for expungement or sealing.
  • If you're eligible, Rasa Legal helps connect you with an affordable attorney, either through its legal services or other groups.

Of note: The app costs $15 but was free on launch day. There's no cost to Utahns who work with a nonprofit and live below the federal poverty level, and Rasa Legal plans to offer the same deal in Arizona.

Zoom in: Expungement isn't available in Arizona in most cases, but a law that went into effect in January allows residents to seal their misdemeanor and felony criminal records.

  • Sealing doesn't fully remove a criminal history the way expungement does, but it removes the history from public records used for most background checks, Sudbury says.
  • Proposition 207, the 2020 ballot measure that legalized recreational marijuana, also allows people with prior marijuana convictions to have those records expunged.

By the numbers: Per Rasa Legal, since it launched in Utah, more than 10,000 people have used the app to determine their eligibility for records clearance and the company has helped about 400 clear their records.

Between the lines: Sudbury says the company's legal services help thousands of people per year at a cost of $250 per case — a fraction, she said, of what most lawyers charge.

  • Rasa Legal is designed for working people who can't afford to hire a traditional lawyer but don't qualify for legal aid.

Why it matters: Criminal records, especially felony convictions, can make it difficult for people to find jobs.

  • People without criminal records are 63% more likely to get job interviews, and their wages increase by 22% within a year of having their records cleared, Sudbury says.

What they're saying: During the panel discussion, Brandy Smith, a formerly incarcerated person who now works for the Arouet Foundation, a nonprofit that helps people with felony convictions get jobs, said when she got out of prison, her resume should've qualified her for a six-figure job, but she had to take a position paying $12 an hour.

  • Nyra Jordan, director of social impact at American Family Insurance, a company with policies that promote the hiring of people with criminal records, said there's a direct connection between record clearance and the quality of employment people can get.

What's next: Rasa Legal plans to expand into other states next year, though there are no final plans yet on exactly which ones.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to reflect that Rasa Legal says it has helped about 400 people clear their records since launching (not annually), and that its legal services have helped thousands of people per year.


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