Formerly incarcerated leaders, criminal justice advocates dismayed by lackluster expungement bill package

September 9, 2019

Statement of JustLeadershipUSA’s WORKINGfuture Campaign

DETROIT — On Monday, Rep. Graham Filler is expected to introduce a package of bills to expand expungements of certain offenses on peoples’ records thereby providing people with more opportunities for employment, housing and other needs. This bill package does not reflect the voices of communities most impacted by mass criminalization and can go much further.  JustLeadershipUSA’s WORKINGfuture campaign issued the following statement in response to the latest legislative package:

“Over the last nine months, JustLeadershipUSA’s WORKINGfuture campaign and our partners have convened listening sessions across Michigan to empower people impacted by mass criminalization and conviction records to develop policy recommendations on the automation and expansion of set-asides (expungements). Recommendations were shared with key stakeholders and legislators with the intent of ensuring that formerly incarcerated and convicted advocates have a voice in the legislative outcomes that will inevitably affect their families and communities. We are disappointed that this most recent bill package is a step backwards from previous versions of the legislation and demand that our voices and perspectives be incorporated before the legislation’s final consideration.

“As a result of convictions, Michiganders face more than 700 laws and statutes that exclude them from access to basic necessities — such as housing, employment and education. Automatic expungement is important because, while current law excludes most Michiganders with conviction histories, only 6 percent of eligible residents take advantage of the law because  of the present complicated, traumatic and costly expungement application process.

“This bill package erodes the very intent behind the movement to automate the expungement process; that is, to remove – at no cost – the permanent stigmatization of a conviction history. Clean Slate legislation is increasingly considered a meaningful, albeit limited, step in course-correcting six decades of tough-on-crime policy that has disproportionately targeted working-class and Black and brown communities. We believe the current draft of the bill can be greatly improved to reflect community demands and by doing so ensure access to a clean slate for communities harmed by over-policing and mass criminalization while providing easier  pathways to expungement for people with wealth and means.

“The bill limits automatic set-asides to non-violent misdemeanors (capped at just four) or low-level felonies that are non-assaultive and punishable by less than ten years (capped at two) and carves out any and all assaultive crimes. By carving out assaultive crimes and limiting the number of expugnable convictions, this bill draws artificial, if not arbitrary, boundaries that will have a disproportionate impact on Black and brown communities where prosecutorial up-charging and over-sentencing is commonplace. The proposed legislation does not go as far as bills that have already passed in Pennsylvania and Utah in its irrational limitation of misdemeanor set asides and also ignores scientific research about the benefits of expungement writ large; set-asides are critical to the economic health and well-being of all Michigan communities.

“While ignoring scientific fact, the bills also will further criminalize poverty. The bill package proposes that all restitution must be paid to be eligible an automated set aside. While restitution is almost never paid in full because of an inability to pay (federally, 95 percent of people ordered to pay restitution receive a waiver because of an inability to pay), this in fact derides the very purpose of automating set-asides – to ensure that the onerous process and fees do not inhibit the right of any Michigander to an expungement. The bill package falls short of previous versions in several other areas as well.

“The current version makes implementation of automated clean slate  contingent on the ability of the State to raise funds. This presents concerns because the bill, regardless of its merits, would not be implemented if lawmakers decide not to appropriate  the funding necessary for the automation process. Another provision in the current package pertaining to set asides for marihuana convictions fail to allow for more comprehensive redress for the people and communities targeted by the continuing War on Drugs.

“We stand in solidarity with community members and their demands, including automating set-asides for all misdemeanor convictions after five years (including traffic offenses) and expunging felonies through a matrix based on seriousness. We believe everyone deserves a WORKINGfuture and stand ready to work with Michigan legislators and fellow advocates to reverse these unfortunate changes to the legislative package.


Hakim Crampton

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