LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Few Michigan residents are taking advantage of a legal option that allows people to erase their criminal convictions, even though an expungement can open doors to housing, student loans, and employment, a study has found.
A University of Michigan law school study estimated that 6.5% of people who meet the expungement requirements end up having their convictions set aside within five years of becoming eligible, the Lansing State Journal reported.
The University of Detroit Mercy law school is using a $20,000 grant from the Michigan State Bar Foundation to host free clinics to spread awareness about how expungement works. Attorneys and law students volunteered last week at a clinic in Lansing to educate more than 100 people on how to clear their records.
Clinton County Judge Michelle Rick said the bureaucracy can be daunting but that clearing felony convictions can be “life-changing.”
The wages of those who had their records expunged jumped by an average of 25% within two years, the study found.
The “discouragingly low” rate of expunged convictions in Michigan can be attributed to most eligible people never applying, the study found. Between 2004 and 2011, the study’s authors projected 91% of people didn’t apply within five years of becoming qualified.
Emilio Gonzalez attended the Lansing clinic. He said he has been dealing with a decades-old felony conviction for the misuse of a credit card but has never applied to expunge his record because he’s unfamiliar with the process and wasn’t sure if his case would be considered.
“I figured with all the gun violence going on and more serious stuff and everything, the judge is not going to have time for my charge,” said Gonzales, who got a January court date after attending the clinic.
Michigan legislators proposed bills this year that could ease the process by automatically expunging some non-violent convictions if the person is crime-free for 10 years. Similar laws have been passed in other states.
“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 said.