Estimated read time: 7-8 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY — More than 300 Utahns were able to clear their criminal records and get a second chance Tuesday at an event hosted by the Utah Jazz at Vivint Arena.
Salt Lake City resident Brock Smith expunged his criminal record in December.
At a young age Smith got addicted to drugs which led to some other poor decisions and a criminal record. He turned his life around by going through treatment and even started a nonprofit called Fourlifers Incorporated to help others recovering from addiction.
Smith became a student in the social work program at the University of Utah but still faced challenges with housing and employment because of his criminal record.
Working with Clean Slate Utah and Rasa Legal, Smith was able to expunge his record through Utah's Clean Slate law, allowing him better options and freedom in his future.
"You walk around knowing that you have this thing that makes you different from everyone else and you feel so isolated," Smith said about having a criminal record.
Having events such as the one hosted by the Utah Jazz on Tuesday "makes the biggest difference," Smith said, to help spread awareness of expungement and make it easily accessible to everyone.
Getting his record expunged, helped Smith feel like he no longer had a scarlet letter on him and that he was free.
A clean slate
The Utah Jazz partnered with Clean Slate Utah, the National Basketball Social Justice Coalition and Rasa Legal to provide an expungement clinic where participants were able to look up their criminal record, see if they are eligible for expungement, and start that process if they qualified.
Utah passed the clean slate law in 2019 but it was not fully implemented until 2022. The law gives people the opportunity to have a clean slate by clearing their criminal records of certain misdemeanors.
Gov. Spencer Cox spoke during the event and praised the clean slate law, sharing how it passed unanimously in the Legislature and that it is something everyone should be proud of.
He said often people don't realize just how much a criminal record impacts them.
"Paying your debt to society is really important but unfortunately people pay their debt to society and then that still is still hung over their head," the governor said. This can impact people's ability to apply for housing, jobs and more.
When we continually remind people of their mistakes and we don't fully give them an opportunity to move on from those mistakes, then people lose hope. That's a very dangerous thing when you lose hope.
–Utah Gov. Spencer Cox
"When we continually remind people of their mistakes and we don't fully give them an opportunity to move on from those mistakes, then people lose hope," Cox said. "That's a very dangerous thing when you lose hope and far too often, it leads people back into places they were trying to get out of in the first place."
This can be evident in recidivism rates increasing, he said. "We know we can do better and that's the very purpose behind this law."
The National Basketball Social Justice Coalition heard about Clean Slate Utah's work in expungement and wanted to get involved. Executive director James Cadogan said because Utah will be hosting the NBA All-Star Game in February, the coalition helped plan this event as a way to bring national attention to Utah as a leader in expungement.
Cadogan said there are so many people in Utah who have come together to solve issues and "that's the kind of thing that we want to talk about and make sure we lift up to a national stage and hope that more people — more states — follow in Utah's footsteps."
"This epitomizes Utah. We believe in second chances," Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith said. "I'm just proud of Utah today."
This epitomizes Utah. We believe in second chances.
–Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith
Smith said it was "moving" seeing people come to Vivint Arena and finding a path forward.
"We're happy to open up our arena, our facilities every day for stuff like this for our community," Smith said. "This is exactly what we intend to use our platform for."
Around 40 volunteer lawyers helped at the event, giving free legal advice on how to clear records and how to start the expungement process.
A community resource fair with addiction recovery programs, health care screenings, nonprofit organizations, clinical consultants, workforce services and more resources were available at Vivint Arena on. Tuesday to help individuals get back on track in their lives.
As part of the event, Utah Support Advocates for Recovery Awareness gave away 100 free expungements.
"It's really hard to put into words how special today is," Cadogan said.
He said the expungement clinic is policy in action where they can see a bipartisan law implemented in the community and impacting real people.
"It epitomizes exactly what we are doing here today, here at Vivint, here in Salt Lake City — it is to take that next step. To celebrate that hard work of passing a good bill that impacts people. The things that make systemic change," Cadogan.
Attorney Derek Huish said he first got involved in expungement when he was in law school. He volunteered for the clinic Tuesday because he loves helping people get a fresh start.
"Convictions and criminal history of any kind can be really harmful to people for a long, long time," Huish said. "Those who got news that at least one or all their history could be expunged — it's something that is liberating for them going forward."
Utah was the second state in the nation to pass a law of this nature and only 10 states so far have a law like this in place. Cox said he is grateful for the support from the National Basketball Social Justice Coalition and he wants to give support back to them.
During his speech at the event, Cox said he wants to make the coalition's hope for the law to expand to all states a reality and said he will help magnify the coalition's voice through his position as vice chair of the National Governors Association.
Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall said the clean slate legislation impacts communities of color more than any other, disproportionate to their population in Utah. She said too many Utahns are still having to check the "yes" box on applications asking about a criminal record when they could be checking "no."
"We're going to keep doing whatever we can in inventing new ways to help remove barriers," she said. "Let's help get the word out there to Utahns that their backgrounds can be cleared, that their path forward is even more clear and that we want to work together ... to make sure we are shortening those paths to success and stability."
Rasa Legal CEO Noella Sudbury said about 1 in 4 people in Utah have a criminal record. "If you don't, it's likely someone you love does," she said.
Sudbury founded Rasa to help make expungement more accessible and affordable in Utah.
There is an incredible network here in Utah to support you to get rid of the record if you are eligible and move forward.
–Rasa Legal Founder Noella Sudbury
Rasa launched a web application in September that allows users to pay a fee and easily look up their criminal record and figure out if they are eligible for expungement, if the records have automatic clearance or have a waiting period, or if the person needs to go through a court-based process to clear it.
Rasa also provides low-cost legal representation to those going through the expungement process.
"Old and minor records can hold people back years after their involvement and it can be frustrating for someone to get back on track," Sudbury said. "Events like this are important to raise awareness that you are not alone and that there is an incredible network here in Utah to support you to get rid of the record if you are eligible and move forward."
Sudbury said for those who could not attend the event, Rasa is waiving the fee for their application this week so anyone can use it for free this and take the first step in changing their life.
Everyone makes mistakes, but when people turn their lives around they deserve second chances, Sudbury said.