Clean Slate: Expunging criminal records helps offenders, society

Breaking the law can have lasting consequences beyond fines and jail time. Someone who has a record may have a difficult time landing or keeping a job, or otherwise becoming a productive member of society – not to mention the embarrassment when others find out, no matter what the present circumstances may be.

Michigan is one of six states to have passed so-called Clean Slate initiatives. This state’s version will expunge misdemeanors seven years after sentencing and felonies 10 years after sentencing, as long as the offender has remained conviction-free.

“It’s an amazing program,” said Beth Norton of Networks Northwest, the workforce and community development organization that will be directly involved in the program.

Fiorvento

As will Taylor Ann “Anna” Fiorvento, who will be the attorney of record working with Networks Northwest.

“I’m excited to be able to help people,” said Fiorvento. “It’s why I became a lawyer.”

Fiorvento said more than 100 people in the 10-county region have already applied, but the program will take time for results. The bills passed by the legislature were signed into law by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Oct. 12 last year and became effective in April 2021.

Fiorvento and Networks Northwest officially entered into their agreement last month. They are now working through the process for each applicant.

Safe and Just Michigan, an organization that works to advance policies that end Michigan’s over-use of incarceration and promote community safety and healing, says it is not uncommon for the petition process to take six months or more to complete. Many courts schedule the hearing on the petition three months or more after the filing date to allow the state police and attorney general’s office to complete the required background check and statutory eligibility analysis.

Norton said those interested must fill out an application, which is followed by pre-screening. If the person is determined to be eligible for the program, the next step is fingerprinting, followed by getting the court records. They then meet with Fiorvento to talk about the process and set up a court hearing.

Fiorvento says that she hopes things will get expedited through a process called stipulated order, in which the judge signs off on a notarized agreement.

“There are 108 people on the list and people on the waiting list; I hope a lot can be done by stipulated order,” she said.

Norton

Norton, the regional director for the Clean Slate Pilot Program at Networks Northwest, believes the program can help offenders regain status in society.

“We all make mistakes. Some are more serious than others. We don’t want to pay for them for most of our lives, especially if (they are not) offenses anymore, such as marijuana,” she said. “Some are no longer a misdemeanor or a felony, so why are we still holding people accountable? They’re old rules, (but) people are still paying.”

Norton will oversee the program, working with Rorie Lewis, the expungement navigator. Norton said the pilot program is now active and is expected to expand by the middle of this year.

One in three Americans has a criminal record of some sort. When a conviction follows a person throughout their life, it can hamper their ability to get a job.

“It’s harmful to Michigan as a whole,” said Fiorvento. “We’re losing out on a lot of really great talent. It’s not beneficial to society or the people.”

Norton says that the ramifications of employed people leads to a better economy.

“Once someone gets employment, they get financial stability,” she said. “That leads to a better economy.”

Even if someone was accused of a crime and was not convicted, it can remain on their record, negatively affecting not only their ability to get a job but to apply for housing, school or healthcare, according to Norton.

Fiorvento said she heard about the program and found it interesting and aligning with her values.

“I do a lot of civil public defense, guardianship, mental health processing,” she said. “When it went live, I put in a bid and was accepted.”

Safe and Just Michigan says Michigan is the first state in the nation to pass a retroactive automatic expungement that makes many felonies eligible for automatic expungement. While eligibility for the automatic expungement is not conditional on whether the applicant has unpaid criminal justice debt, there is a provision that permits the expungement to be rescinded if the person does not make a good faith effort to pay restitution.

Criminal sexual conduct and other convictions resulting in life sentences are not eligible under the legislation. Now eligible are those whose offenses include most drug, property and traffic offenses.

For more, go to nwmiworks.org or contact Lewis at rorie.lewis@networksnorthwest.org.

 

 

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