November 18, 2019, 11:15 am
Starting life over after leaving prison is difficult. I understand returning citizens face a lot of hurdles. Many prisoners have lost connections and relationships they had prior to coming to prison. Most have lost their homes, cars, and other material things. Most also have no savings to draw from, and having a felony can make getting some jobs difficult. Renting a home or apartment often requires background and credit checks, so finding a place that will accept a felon who has no credit to speak of can be challenging.
Residency and employment restrictions for former felons can sometimes be so restrictive that, without the support of friends and family, many returning citizens find themselves unemployed and homeless. Some positive changes have been made in laws and public policies, especially concerning employment forms requiring information about felonies; however, prejudices and discrimination continues to be a problem for some returning citizens. Policies and laws that discriminate against people with the scarlet letter “F” (for felon) are deeply entrenched. That’s why I am so pleased to hear about clean slate legislation that has strong bipartisan support in Michigan.
A package of seven expungement bills has currently passed the House and is waiting for committee action in the Senate. Together, these bills will greatly expand expungement options for former felons. Current expungement laws are very narrow, and most eligible people don’t know they are eligible. The new laws, if passed, will make expungement automatic after three to ten years (depending on severity), and make non-automatic expungement available even for assaultive felonies after five to seven years.
According to University of Michigan criminologist Sonja Starr, when a former prisoner has remained crime-free for five years after release from prison, he or she is less likely to commit crimes than citizens with no criminal record. This fact makes automatic and more expansive expungement options a no-brainer. Clearing someone’s record when they’ve proven they’ve reformed just makes sense.
Expanding expungement options allows people who have reformed their thinking and behavior the privilege of full, unrestricted citizenship. Those who have served their sentences, returned to their communities, and proven their ability to live lawfully should have the chance to remove the scarlet letter they bear. Rather than living forever with the stain of past bad decisions, they are free to be fully functioning, fully contributing members of their communities. This clean slate legislation is another of the great steps in criminal justice reform that rejects fear-based policies of the past and embraces redemptive approaches to justice.
Please contact your state Senator and Representative to ask them to vote for the clean slate legislation. For more information on this package of bills, please visit www.safeandjustmi.org/Clean-Slate-for-Michigan. Thank you to Safe & Just Michigan for their hard work advocating for these bills. For more legislative updates on Michigan criminal justice policies, and to financially support their work of advocacy, subscribe to Safe & Just Michigan’s quarterly newsletter.
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The opinions expressed within posts and comments are solely those of each author, and are not necessarily those of Women Against Registry. Women Against Registry reserves the right to edit or delete any content submitted.