Expunging a criminal record can be difficult and costly, but an upcoming event in Ypsilanti will initiate a conversation about how to simplify and improve the process.
The event, called Clean Slate Ypsi, is set for 10 a.m. to noon Feb. 23 at the Robert C. Barnes Marketplace Hall at 15 S. Washington St. in Ypsilanti. Its purpose is to collect experiences and stories from those who have attempted or successfully completed the expungement process in Michigan and ask those people what an ideal program would look like.
"Just over 40,000 people in Michigan get convicted of a felony every year, and that means half a million people every 10 to 12 years being shut out of housing, education, and job opportunities," says Aaron Suganuma, executive director of A Brighter Way, a Washtenaw County-based mentorship organization hosting the event.
"Expungement has been around for 50 years in Michigan, but most of the people who qualify for it don't access it because the types of jobs they have won't give them the time off to take the steps needed to go through the process," he says. He also notes that the process requires money and consulting a lawyer.
Suganuma says he'd like to amend Michigan's expungement process to make it similar to an automated model recently implemented in Pennsylvania.
"Instead of a person having to figure out that (the expungement process) exists and go through all the steps, there's a computer database and qualifying people pop up, a judge gets a notification, (and) victims get a notification," Suganma says. "It's the same steps, but it's more accessible."
Safe and Just Michigan, an organization that works to reduce incarceration and promote community safety, has conducted similar events in Muskegon and Lansing. Representatives from that organization and A Brighter Way hope to use the information and stories gleaned from the events to lobby for a change in state legislation.
Suganuma says reducing stigma throughout communities is an important part of the process as well.
"The economy is great, and a lot of people are able to get jobs, but (the formerly incarcerated) are not able to get housing because landlords don't want to rent to them," he says. "We need to broaden the community conversation and increase opportunities. When a person breaks out of that cycle (of criminal activity), they should be allowed to move forward with their lives."
Click here for more information about Clean Slate events around the state.
Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She has served as innovation and jobs/development news writer for Concentrate since early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to Driven. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.