People with low-level drug convictions and other minor crimes who sometimes get rejected for jobs or denied the chance to rent apartments because of their criminal records can now get help from a new "expungement navigator" hired by Salt Lake County
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Nearly two years ago, Amy Daeschel’s life quickly spiraled.
The 41-year-old was arrested for the seventh time while battling opiate addiction.
Daeschel’s struggles with heroin addiction and homelessness began with pain pills she was prescribed after undergoing several foot surgeries. She went from a successful career in the mortgage industry to selling meth in order to support her addiction.
Now, Daeschel is clean. She works full time as a peer recovery coach and volunteers for a score of recovery programs. She has dreams of attending college.
But Daeschel’s past holds her back as several drug-related misdemeanor charges still mark her criminal record.
It took her 15 applications to find an apartment that would accept her.
"It’s hard enough to pull your life around from that dark of an addiction," she said. "I know what my journey was. I know what I had to go through. I completed everything successfully . Now I want that stigma erased and just be able to move on with my life."
The Deseret News reports Daeschel has joined hundreds of residents seeking help from Salt Lake County to expunge their criminal records. The process requires lengthy paperwork, fees and months of waiting. But a new Salt Lake County initiative helps streamline the process to clear eligible records.
Last winter, the Utah Legislature passed a "clean slate" law, which allows eligible offenders with certain misdemeanor or infraction convictions to have their record automatically expunged when enough time has passed. The law is set to go into effect on May 1, 2020.
Salt Lake County has recently hired a part-time "expungement navigator," a law school graduate to help people along the process and to help pay for Utah Bureau of Criminal Identification fees.
After winning a $150,000 grant, the county hired Jake Smith for the role.
Noella Sudbury, Salt Lake County’s senior policy adviser on criminal justice, said she estimates Smith will work with between 300 to 500 people by the end of the year.
"Expungement opens up so much opportunity to get people back as contributing members of society, but it also restores their dignity and makes them feel like they’re worth it," Sudbury said. "I think it creates a lot of hope."
Smith has been working with Daeschel on her application. He said he’s passionate about helping people put their past behind them when they deserve it. If more people can navigate the expungement process, he said, it may help break the cycles of homelessness or addiction.
"That’s the real story here is people have their individual issues, and there’s something heartbreaking in every single one of them," he said. "And if we as a county can help them in any way, that’s fantastic."