Were you arrested, had all charges dismissed but still find yourself having to explain this to employers? Or were you evicted more than two years ago but still struggle to find an apartment?
These records can follow you around online without you even knowing it, visible to potential employers and landlords.
LIFT Dane, a Madison-based collaboration of non-profits focused on social justice and economic equity, developed the Legal Tune-up Tool, which uses an online process to streamline the removal of eligible criminal and eviction records.
The idea originated as part of the 2019 Dream Up Wisconsin competition, which set out to invest $1 million in a technology that could increase net household income by 10% for 10,000 Dane County families in two years.
Dream Up Wisconsin is a local version of the national American Dream initiative funded by Schmidt Futures, a philanthropic organization started by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and his wife, Wendy.
"We used public data that is so often used against people to help correct situations or improve situations that might be barriers to employment, housing, education, childcare and health," explained Marsha Mansfield, director of the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Economic Justice Institute and director of LIFT Dane.
In 2019, Legal Tune-up Tool won the top award in the competition.
Although the launch was delayed by the coronavirus fallout, Mansfield said their team of lawyers and members of Employment and Training Services worked with a tech company to tackle three priorities: criminal or eviction records that are eligible for removal, suspended driver's licenses and/or outstanding child support orders.
The first of those priorities, is now being addressed through the Legal Tune-up Tool and Mansfield said the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.
"People are excited to have something easy to use, that is understandable and can fix something," she explained.
Here's more information about the tool and how you can use it.
What is the Legal Tune-up Tool?
The Legal Tune-up Tool allows all Wisconsin residents to see what information from their legal history is eligible to be removed from the state's online court records system, the Consolidated Court Automation Programs (CCAP), as well as the Wisconsin Online Record Check System (WORCS), a database used by employers and landlords to background check potential employees and tenants.
The tool walks residents through the steps, and it can be used on a computer or phone and is available in English and Spanish.
Dane County residents additionally have the option to seek legal assistance for their specific case and also can access free employment and training services.
The tool can be found at: https://legaltuneup.org/.
How does the tool work?
The first step requires you to enter your name and date of birth into a form, which then will return any eligible records with your name in CCAP.
To clear the records from CCAP, you can fill out a form and submit it to the clerk of courts through the online tool. The process does not require the applicant to mail the form, although you can choose to download and send in the form yourself.
The tool also offers the opportunity to view records in the WORCS database, although this requires more steps. To search WORCS, you have to complete a criminal history form, add your fingerprints to the system and then have the information mailed. Wisconsin residents are able to be fingerprinted at the Urban League of Greater Madison or Legal Action of Wisconsin for free.
Mansfield said they are working on securing locations around the state, including in Racine, Wausau and Milwaukee, to ensure those residents will have easier access to fingerprinting services.
What types of records are eligible for removal?
The tool currently addresses criminal and eviction records.
Eviction records that are eligible to be removed from CCAP include two-year-old cases (or older) that were dismissed and cases when there was no monetary judgment in the record. More details are available here.
Criminal records eligible to be removed from CCAP include arrests where you have not been charged, charges that have been dismissed, acquittals and cases of mistaken identity. Other eligible records include civil cases that include your personal information if you are being threatened. More details are available here.
What records are considered ineligible?
Under the law, the tool cannot be used for expungements, nor for arrests that resulted in convictions. Other records ineligible for removal include instances where someone was arrested and charged with two offenses and only one was dismissed.
"Expungements are very hard to get," explained Mansfield. "They’re only for people who have actually completed a sentence or probation, after they have been convicted of a crime, and then they can go back under very certain, specific circumstances to get it taken off."
Will the tool tackle other types of records in the future?
According to Mansfield, tools to assist with driver's license reinstatement and child support orders will eventually be added.
She said LIFT Dane is currently in the process of working with the state Department of Transportation and the state Department of Children and Families to access their data so future users can make requests through an online tool.
What is the long-term goal with this tool?
Mansfield said that LIFT Dane eventually wants to use the tools to gather data to advocate for policy changes.
"We want to show that people who are able to clear these records do get better, don’t reoffend, don’t get evicted and that’s the basis for a policy change," she said.
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: How to remove eligible criminal, eviction records in Wisconsin