‘Clean Slate’ bills aim to help people move forward

Truly rehabilitated people have a right to start over and begin a new life.

Michigan will automatically expunge qualifying felonies after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed bills Monday in Detroit that supporters say will affect hundreds of thousands of people’s ability to work, the Associated Press reported.

The “Clean Slate” legislation requires the state to create an automated system over the next two years for expungements of certain felonies after 10 years and misdemeanors after seven years.

However, there are limitations. The legislation does not expand expungement for certain offenses involving assault, weapons, felonies that carry a maximum sentence of life in prison or driving under the influence — and that’s understandable.

Other parts of the package take effect in 180 days, following Monday’s bills signing, and allows those with marijuana misdemeanor convictions to apply for expungement if their offenses would have been legal for recreational use, which was approved in 2018.

“We are so thankful that the governor has signed Clean Slate into law,” Safe & Just Michigan Executive Director John S. Cooper said in a statement. “Clean Slate legislation will make new opportunities and a brighter future possible for hundreds of thousands of Michiganders, and as a result, for the entire state of Michigan.”

SJM, based in Lansing, works to advance policies that end Michigan’s overuse of incarceration and promote community safety and healing.

“As we advocated for Clean Slate, we met a man in Ypsilanti who couldn’t get a felony expunged because of three misdemeanors from nearly 30 years ago,” Cooper said. “We met a Muskegon man with two drug convictions from the early 1990s, and though he had turned his entire life around and earned a master’s degree, those convictions were holding him back from achieving the opportunities he has worked so hard for.”

Cooper said SJM has heard from many people with traffic offenses on their records, which account for half of all criminal cases in Michigan, but until the signing of this legislation, those offenses weren’t eligible for expungement.

Having a criminal record, SJM pointed out, can prevent people from getting a good-paying job, obtaining safe and affordable housing or even getting into a college or job training program. It stressed that many employers and landlords have policies that exclude hiring or leasing apartments to people with criminal histories.

So, how are people supposed to support themselves when they’re not getting an income? Possibly resort to crime? That’s not the answer.

An expungement shields those convictions from public view. Police and courts, though, still can view the information.

While Michigan had an existing expungement process, it was limited in eligibility, expensive to complete and confusing to navigate, SJM said. As a result, fewer than 7% of all people who qualified for an expungement even tried to obtain one.

SJM mentioned a University of Michigan study that found wages rose an average of about 25% within two years after getting an expungement.

We believe a person with a record of a misdemeanor or non-assaultive felony who wants to re-enter society in a meaningful way should be able to move forward with fewer obstacles.

The “Clean Slate” legislation should help remove those obstacles.

— The Daily News, Iron Mountain


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