As a young man in his late teens and early 20s, Evan Done struggled with alcohol and got in trouble.
Mostly, he said, it was the kind of stuff a drunk kid would do — getting into fights, stealing things, running from the police.
Eventually, he got help, got sober and got a job at a nonprofit dedicated to raising awareness for substance abuse disorders. He’s also taking classes in social work at the University of Utah.
But his criminal record has hung over him like a cloud all this time — as it does for many of the estimated 800,000 Utahns who have a criminal record.
None of his charges were enough to keep him from getting into school or, when he gets to that point, getting his therapist license, but they still posed an obstacle on things like rental applications.
“I knew if they were asking about a criminal record I wasn’t going to be approved, so why even apply?” Done told me recently.
Done had tried to get his record expunged with help from a Salt Lake County Expungement Navigator, but, at the time, it still would have cost several thousand dollars in court fees. So he never followed through with the navigator.
Rasa was created under the umbrella of Utah’s legal services sandbox, which was established by the courts in 2020 to find ways to use technology to overcome barriers to the justice system.
Created by Noella Sudbury, a one-time criminal justice adviser to former-Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams, individuals can enter their information into Rasa’s web application — available at https://www.rasa-legal.com/ — to find out if they qualify for automatic expungement, if they need to petition the courts to have their record expunged or if they need to wait longer before they are eligible.
If the court process is required, Rasa’s staff will handle the paperwork to expunge three records for a flat fee of $500 — a significant saving from the $2,000-$3,000 it would cost to hire an attorney to handle the application. The app is free for those below the federal poverty level, or those who earn about $13,600 a year.
They are able to make it affordable because the sandbox made it possible for non-lawyers — working under the supervision of a staff attorney — to handle routine paperwork and filings. Sudbury has hired a team of people, many of whom have had their own criminal records expunged, to do most of the work.
“They took it out of my hands. I didn’t have to lift a finger,” Done said. “With a process as burdensome as expungement, it’s a huge relief.”
The benefits of an expungement, Sudbury told me, are well-documented: Individuals who have had their records cleared are 63% more likely to get a job interview and their wages increase by 22% a year after their expungement.
There are less-tangible benefits, as well, said Done, who has had three of his four records expunged and is waiting for a judge to clear off his last case, which had been dismissed.
“It’s been a huge shift in how I perceive myself just as being a citizen of the State of Utah,” he said. “It’s hard for me to describe the relief I feel after decades of having seen myself or being seen as a person who has a criminal record in the eyes of the law.”
Since accepting clients in March, more than 2,000 people have used the app, and Rasa currently has more than 450 active expungement cases.
Utah, of course, is not unique in the number of residents with a criminal conviction on their record. An estimated 70 million to 100 million Americans — nearly one in three — have been convicted of a crime.
Sudbury is hoping to roll out the app in Arizona next year and she has received inquiries from other states interested in using the app to help their residents get out from under the burden of their past.
Update, Nov. 23 • This story has been updated to indicate the status of Arizona’s plan to deploy the expungement app.