Southeast Michigan expungement fairs set formerly incarcerated job-seekers on road to employment

Michigan Works! Southeast and other partners have been making it easier for formerly incarcerated job-seekers to expunge their records for at least 10 years.
When Corey Houser first tried to expunge his record for a crime committed in Ypsilanti, he waited in line for hours at an event only to find out he had misinformation about eligibility.

"I had the date wrong," he says. "They told me I was a year and a half early, because I thought it was five years after I got out from incarceration, but it was supposed to be five years after I was discharged from parole."

Houser went on to get all his paperwork lined up and will be eligible for expungement this year, but says the process can be seriously daunting.

"It was as difficult as I thought it would be," he says.

However, resources are available to navigate the challenging expungement process. Michigan Works! Southeast and other partners have been making it easier for formerly incarcerated job-seekers to expunge their records for at least 10 years, and their yearly expungement fairs create a one-stop shop that expedites the process even further.

How expungement fairs work

Herb Fluker, career advisor with Michigan Works! Southeast, says that Washtenaw County is one of the first of a growing number of Michigan counties that are streamlining the expungement process. About a decade ago, Washtenaw County started a committee of partners that include Michigan Works!, the Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office, the Washtenaw County Prosecutor's Office, and Legal Services of South Central Michigan (LSSCM). 

The committee convenes expungement fairs about once a year to expedite the process, with committee members waiving fees for copying court documents or taking fingerprints. Before the applicant leaves, their entire application is filled out with supporting documentation. The committee members in charge of the fairs submit the packets to the court for approval, which usually comes a few months after they're submitted, depending on how busy the jurisdiction is, Fluker says.

Fluker says he's seen other fairs where attendees can visit an attorney and get expungement information. But if attendees want help navigating the process, they have to meet with the attorney later and pay for their help.

"We wanted an individual to come in and do the whole thing for free, without them having to pay anything, because that was a barrier to a lot of people," Fluker says.
Doug CoombeMichigan Works! Southeast career advisor Herb Fluker.
If a person's offense was in one county and they live in a different one, the process might be more complicated, but Fluker says, "That doesn't mean we're going to just drop you."

He says he'll make sure the applicant gets a "warm handoff" to the correct jurisdiction and notes that many other counties and jurisdictions, including the city of Detroit, have similar programs to expedite expungement.

Fluker says that if a formerly incarcerated job-seeker misses the expungement fair or just wants to do more of the process themself, Michigan Works! can help any time of the year, asking initial intake questions to screen for the client's eligibility.

Fluker suggests that anyone missing details and dates can also fill out an intake form at LSSCM's website. An attorney will contact the applicant free of charge to help them determine eligibility.

Why expungement matters

Houser says he has spent a lot of time thinking and talking to others about the concept of "perpetual punishment." 

"A lot of people who are formerly incarcerated think it's over when they finish parole, but that's just the first step," Houser says. "The backlash of having a felony record felt like a whole other sentence."

A criminal record can keep a formerly incarcerated person from finding a good job or a landlord who will rent to them. Expungement cleans up their record and makes attaining those basic needs easier, in turn reducing recidivism. That's the rationale behind offering job-seekers easier access to expungement.

Jen Hoffmeyer, a career advisor with the Livingston office of Michigan Works! Southeast, says that employment helps a great deal with recidivism rates.
courtesy Corey HouserCorey Houser.
"If they don't have stable employment, it can cause a lot of relapse issues, from substance use to involvement with the criminal justice system," Hoffmeyer says.

Formerly, expungement could only apply to, at most, one felony and two misdemeanors, and the types of crimes covered were limited. The state of Michigan made it easier for the formerly incarcerated to pursue expungement with Clean Slate legislation enacted in 2020. That legislation shortened many waiting periods and added more offenses that could be expunged — including a single DUI charge. The legislation also automatically seals the record of anyone convicted of a marijuana offense that would currently not be illegal after a certain amount of time has passed.

Hoffmeyer says the new legislation also makes it possible to "lump together" several offenses that happen during the same incident under a "one bad night" rule. That means someone who was convicted of two or more felony charges stemming from a single incident (such as separate charges for possession of a drug and possession of drug paraphernalia) might still qualify for expungement.

Expungement means that a job seeker does not have to check a box on applications saying they have a criminal record. While their criminal records are sealed to the public, some law enforcement agencies may still have access to certain records.

Hoffmeyer notes that Michigan Works! Southeast is interested in helping not only formerly incarcerated job-seekers, but also employers who are open to but hesitant about employing returning citizens. A tax credit for hiring a formerly incarcerated employee might be an incentive, for instance.

"There are always some employers who will work with them, because people still on parole or probation make really great employees. They want to prove themselves, and they don't want to go back," Hoffmeyer says. "We want to try to make a good match so everybody is successful."

Additional information about expungements in Washtenaw County is available on the county prosecutor's office website.

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at

Photos by Doug Coombe.
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