by Laina G. Stebbins, Michigan Advance
Criminal justice reforms signed three years ago took effect last week, with nearly 850,000 Michiganders seeing at least one conviction automatically set aside.
The automatic expungement process began on Tuesday. The bipartisan “Clean Slate” legislation, as advocates call it, wipes clean a range of convictions from people’s records after a defined waiting period.
Michigan has about 2.8 million people with criminal records. Many of those convictions are low-level, nonviolent offenses, while many others were committed as juveniles. Before the new expungement laws, those offenses stuck to records and acted as barriers to housing and employment opportunities.
“We’re celebrating a historic step forward as Michigan becomes just the third state to implement automatic expungement,” said John Cooper, executive director of Safe & Just Michigan. “This reform will deliver immediate and automatic impact for more than a million people, all of whom are likely to see their access to housing and jobs improve overnight.”
On April 11 alone, when the automatic expungement program began, 252,417 Michiganders became conviction-free as their criminal records were sealed. Included in the nearly 1.2 million total convictions set aside were more than 105,000 felony convictions and more than 1 million misdemeanors.
Other states that offer relief for criminal records include Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Utah, Florida, Georgia, Montana and Maine.
“Nation Outside is excited by the millions of Michiganders who will have their records automatically expunged. We know all too well how difficult, expensive and embarrassing the expungement petition process can be,” said Antoniese “Tony” Gant, director of policy and program operations for the Lansing-based Nation Outside.
“We are encouraged and hopeful that the State of Michigan will continue to advance meaningful second chances in the future.”
The new expungement program’s algorithm automatically searches the state’s criminal record database every day to find convictions newly eligible for expungement.
Offenses not eligible for expungement include arson, child abuse, first-degree criminal sexual conduct, first-degree murder, felonious assault, manslaughter, stalking and others.
For misdemeanors punishable by less than 93 days in jail, courts will seal those records instead of the state police.
“This groundbreaking, nation-leading reform will be transformational for thousands of our neighbors in West Michigan, and for our member businesses who have thousands of job openings to fill,” said Josh Lunger, vice president of government affairs with the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce. “Building sustainable talent pipelines and creating economic opportunity for more people is a critical piece of supporting a thriving and prosperous West Michigan for all.”
Research has shown favorable outcomes for employment and income for people whose records have been expunged, along with a lower reoffense rate than compared to the general public.
Safe & Just estimates that going forward, the program will expunge between 100,000 to 200,000 low-level, nonviolent criminal records annually.
Convictions will be eligible for permanent sealing after seven years for up to four misdemeanors; and after either 10 years for up to two felonies or the completion of a prison term.
This story was written by Laina G. Stebbins, a reporter at the Michigan Advance, where this story first appeared.
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