Michigan is poised to enact the nation's most lenient "expungement" law, loosening the criteria for having a crime erased from one's record — and other states may soon follow suit.
Why it matters: In cities like Detroit, where a third of residents have felony or misdemeanor convictions that harm their ability to get a job or rent a house, expungement paves the way to a higher income, better life prospects and the ineffable joy of enhanced dignity.
Driving the news: Starting in April, Michigan's expungement rules will be generously expanded, making it a lot easier for people with criminal records to seek employment, housing and financial aid — even to volunteer at their children's schools.
- People will be able to expunge "up to three felonies and an unlimited number of misdemeanors" from their records," per the Detroit Free Press.
- Two "assaultive" crimes will be allowed, as well as many more traffic and marijuana-related offenses.
- Under a "one bad night" clause, multiple felonies or misdemeanors stemming from the same 24 hours can count as a single conviction.
- By 2023, Michigan's expungement system will be automated, with misdemeanors automatically cleared seven years after sentencing, and felonies after 10 years.
"This is more than a criminal justice issue — this is an economic issue," Carrie Jones, senior adviser to Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and top point person for his Project Clean Slate initiative, told me.
The big picture: Other state legislatures — like Virginia, Mississippi and Florida — are debating measures that would broaden expungement rules.
- The bills tend to have bipartisan support.
- Some are aimed at automating the process, which tends to be expensive and time-consuming.
- Code for America, a government reform nonprofit that's pushing for automated expungement, says 1 in 3 Americans have a criminal record that shows up on routine background checks, and nearly half of U.S. kids have at least one parent with a record.
Details: Detroit's Project Clean Slate, begun in 2016 at the behest of Duggan, employs staff attorneys who handled 300 convictions last year — and are seeing a surge in applications as a result of the new law.
- "The biggest thing for our clients is the number of convictions" that can be expunged starting April 12, Stefani LaBelle, the lead attorney for Project Clean Slate, tells Axios.
- Crimes that can't be expunged include murder, carjacking, kidnapping and criminal sexual assault.
- The program — which acts as a sort of one-stop-shop for expungement — is seen as a role model: "We've been contacted by cities all over the state and country looking to implement a program like ours," Jones tells Axios.
The bottom line: A University of Michigan study found that most people eligible for expungement don't apply for it — only 6.5% — but that people who do get their criminal records wiped tend to have "extremely low subsequent crime rates."
- They also see their wages rise by 25% on average within two years.
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