A 2019 study from the University of Michigan Law School estimated only 6.5 percent of those able to expunge their records did so within five years of eligibility.
The study found that the expungement rate is low because many people don’t know they are eligible or are put off by complex terminology, financial costs and time constraints.
That process could change under “Clean Slate” bills in the Michigan legislature that would automatically wipe records of people who have been crime-free for 10 years.
“We need to look at making it possible for more people to re-enter society without a criminal record hanging over their heads,” Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II said at an expungement clinic this week in Lansing. “We also need to take a hard look at automating the process.”
Jesse Kelly, a government affairs specialist at The R Street Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization, told The Center Square the application process disproportionately impacts people with low-incomes who can’t afford attorneys or time off work.
Kelly said in Michigan, expungement applicants have to pay $50 to the State Police, request an FBI background check, and notify the state attorney general and their local prosecutor.
Most government offices are open from 9 a.m to 5 p.m., Kelly said, and only a few states provide an online application.
Kelly said hiring an attorney isn’t required to apply for expungement, but they can expedite the process, although they can cost about $1,500, state Rep. David LaGrand, D-Grand Rapids, testified during the “Raise the Age” hearing.
The automatic expungement bills would shred attorney fees and paperwork, Kelly said.
The bills include safeguards for jobs that require public trust, such as preventing a person with a violent felony from working with children or becoming a police officer.
more serious crimes such as murder and criminal sexual conduct wouldn’t be eligible for expungement.
Only Pennsylvania and Utah have passed an automatic expungement provision.
Kelly said expunging a record can impact a person’s life immediately by increasing that person’s likelihood for employment by 11 percent, raise their income by 25 percent, and provide better housing options.
That helps landlords and employers who might otherwise hesitate to hire ex-convicts because of public safety concerns, Kelly said, because the chance of recidivism for people who’ve been crime-free for 10 years is low.
Kelly said there may be some initial hurdles if the bill becomes law, but the process would ease the court system’s burden because an algorithm would wipe records, saving judges and prosecutors about three hours per expungement hearing.
Kelly said these benefits can spur the economy.
“If people are more stable where they live and have more money to spend, the likelihood of people staying and investing in their communities and local businesses is going to increase,” Kelly said. “Automatic expungement really can only benefit public safety and community stability.”