Michigan prepares to automate expungement of criminal records

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Michigan will begin automating the clearance of criminal records for some state residents within the next six months, and make it easier for others to apply for expungement over the next two years, after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s signing of a series of bills last week endorsed by criminal justice advocacy groups and the civic-tech group Code for America’s “Clear My Record” program.

The “Clean Slate” bill, Whitmer said, will ensure that Michigan residents who haven’t committed a misdemeanor in the past seven years or a felony in the last 10 years can expunge their criminal records easily and cheaply.

Previously, Michigan only cleared the records of 6.5% of people who qualified for expungement within five years of becoming eligible, according to a University of Michigan Law School study. With at least 787 laws on the state’s books that prevent felons and former criminals from getting a job, housing or an education, according to criminal justice reform group Safe and Just Michigan, simplifying the expungement process is a huge win.

“This is a milestone in state criminal record-sealing policy that will help hundreds of thousands of people in Michigan and help drive the national conversation on reform forward,” the group’s executive director, John S. Cooper, said in a press release.

Whitmer called it a “historic day” for Michigan.

“These bipartisan bills are a game changer for people who are seeking opportunities for employment, housing, and more, and they will help ensure a clean slate for hundreds of thousands of Michiganders,” she said in the press release. “This is also an opportunity to grow our workforce and expand access to job training and education for so many people.”

Outside of expunging records for felons, the laws will treat multiple felonies or misdemeanors from the same incident as a single felony or misdemeanor and allow people to set aside at least one marijuana-related offense if it wouldn’t have been a crime under the state’s new recreational marijuana laws.

While the initiative was championed by criminal justice groups, it’s also the latest success for Code for America’s digital automation tool, called Clear My Record. The technology analyzes criminal history data in bulk and determines automatically who is eligible to have their records cleared in accordance with recent criminal-justice reforms.

Organizers at Safe and Just Michigan said Michigan’s new legislation will improve the economic outlook for people who qualify. The Michigan Law School study found that the incomes of people whose records are cleared increased by 23% within the first year after expungement.

The tool, created in 2016, has also been used by numerous state and local governments, including California, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Cook County, Illinois.

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Clear My Record, Code for America, Gretchen Whitmer, Michigan
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