President Donald Trump has made criminal justice a key element of his domestic policy agenda: Through the passage of the First Step Act, the administration demonstrated a commitment to second chances for those in the federal system.
Indeed, President Trump talked about his criminal justice in his State of the Union message, noting: “America is a nation that believes in redemption.”
However, redemption and re-entry are exponentially more difficult for those with criminal convictions of any type. It is no wonder that Michigan has a 27 percent recidivism rate, when those with records are so often precluded from employment, housing and education.
Currently, Michigan offers a limited solution in expungement, a process where individuals ask the court to have their record sealed.
After an expungement, a Michigan study found an individual’s income increases by an average of 25 percent. Yet, only 6.5 percent of those who are eligible have actually obtained an expungement.
The process is the antithesis of good government. It is cumbersome and expensive, often requiring the assistance of an attorney. And it eats up the time of judges, prosecutors and staff.
Like so many other problems facing society today, the answer lies in technology. Legislation pending in Michigan would create a system where those who are eligible can automatically have their records cleared — in essence receiving a “clean slate.”
Already enacted in Pennsylvania and Utah (two states not known for being soft on crime), Clean Slate allows for automated record sealing and expungement, but only for those convicted of low-level (non-violent and non-sexual) offenses, who have been crime free for at least seven years.
If individuals get in trouble with the law in the future, they are still held accountable, as expungements in Michigan do not hide records from law enforcement or the courts.
By expanding expungement opportunities, Clean Slate helps people who have made a mistake return to society and not look back. But it also helps make our communities safer.
Evidence shows that having a good job and stable housing are two keys for individuals to stay on the straight and narrow. Because record sealing makes finding a job and a place to live easier, individuals who receive expungements are less likely to re-offend.
Providing opportunities for those with justice system involvement to rejoin society as law-abiding and contributing citizens means less recidivism, fewer filled prison cells and safer streets.
Last month, the Michigan Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee passed the Clean Slate legislation known as HB 4980. The next step is the Senate floor. Supported by evidence and data, HB 4980 is based on a simple principle: eventually, we must be able to put our mistakes behind us. The legislation was approved in the House by wide margins last year. It is sound public policy.
Eighteen months ago, Republicans and Democrats in Washington were able to put partisanship aside to pass the first major piece of criminal justice reform legislation in a decade.
Our hope is that Michigan considers this legislation with similar bipartisan support, and follows in Congress’s footsteps to provide second chances — and opportunities for redemption — to those who have made mistakes.