An Ingenious App to Solve an Omni-Present Problem.

Here’s something you may not have thought about. What happens in the following case?
Hands encircling the globeA woman has managed to escape her trafficker and now wants more than anything else to put her life back together and lead a normal life. However, she has a police record as long as your arm.

Landlords may not want to rent to someone with that kind of record. And who wants to hire her, with felony convictions on her record?

Natalie Nanasi, an attorney who teaches at the SMU Dedman School of Law, has some innovative and high-tech answers to this problem. Currently, her project is applicable only to Texas, but the concept could be important to you, wherever you are.

Read on and discover an ingenious solution to a problem that may be prevalent in your area.

Hugs to all of you,
Mitzi

Mitzi Perdue, Organizer, the Anti-Trafficking Auction.

Interview with Natalie Nanasi

Editor: You have an exciting new app. Why is it needed?

Nanasi: The problem is, individuals may escape their traffickers but once they’re freed, they may not be able to find a place to live or a job. Too often, circumstances conspire they’re being re-trafficked.

While they were being trafficked, they likely picked up criminal convictions, often for offenses relating to prostitution or drugs. These convictions make it incredibly difficult to find a safe place to live.¨As you might imagine, the type of apartment that will rent to someone with a record is likely one that isn’t safe for a survivor or her children. It may be in a crime-ridden area or in extremely dilapidated conditions with, for example, non-functioning heating, air-conditioning, or plumbing. ¨

And if that isn’t enough, they’ll also find they can’t get a decent job.

Editor: Let’s take the imaginary case of Crystal, who now finds herself in this situation. Is it fair to say that the arrests that are causing her all these problems weren’t truly her fault?

Nanasi: The criminal record she acquired while being trafficked isn’t fair. She would not have had the criminal record if she hadn’t been forced into prostitution. The illegal things she did were because she was forced to do or what she needed to do to survive an unspeakable situation,
Editor: What can be done?

Nanasi: My colleagues and I are helping people in Crystal’s situation to have their criminal records sealed or expunged. We’ve developed an easy-to-use app to help accomplish this.

Post-conviction relief is a very complicated area of the law. There are changes to the law every few years and it can be hard, especially without a lawyer, to determine if the individuals can have something done about their records.

Editor: And your app helps with this?

Nanasi: We’ve created an easy-to-navigate flow chart to determine the individual’s eligibility. In the app, she and her advocate can answer a series of yes or no questions, and at the end, they’ll have a handle on what they need to do and what help is available.

Editor: How did you develop it?

Nanasi: It’s been a cooperative effort with my colleague Keith Robinson, who teaches a class that merges law and technology, and the Hunter Center. SMU law students helped develop the app, which is great training for them because they need to be conversant with the issues, and in addition, they’ll gain some highly-useful professional skills in the process.

Editor: What’s the status of the app now, and will it be useful to people in other areas with different laws?

Nanasi: The app is useful in Texas, and we hope to make it more robust as we continue using it and improving it. As for its use in other areas, there’s a need for it because of the problem we’re working on occurs in all 50 states. We’d love to have other states and maybe even other countries use a version of what we’ve developed but they’d need to adapt it to the laws where they’re located.

Editor: If someone wanted to get in touch with you about adapting your app to their area, where could they contact you.

Nanasi: They can write to nnanasi@smu.edu

By Mitzi Perdue