A fresh start: Expungement clinic this Thursday, Jan. 16 aims to help individuals clear criminal history and rebuild lives

Members of the expungement team at the Livability Lab kick-off event in September. Photo courtesy of Muskegon Community Health Innovation Region.

An upcoming expungement clinic will be held at Muskegon’s West Michigan Works! (316 Morris Ave.) from 2-8pm on Thursday, Jan. 16 in an effort to help individuals wipe convictions from their criminal records.

West Michigan Works!, Talent 2025, the Black Women’s Political Caucus of Muskegon County, Goodwill Industries of West Michigan, and the Muskegon County Public Defender are teaming up to host the clinic. The event will assist individuals who have a prior conviction to see if they are eligible to wipe their criminal histories clean and to file for expungement.

Expungement erases an individual’s conviction from public record, allowing people to apply for everything from a job to housing without it showing up in a background check. This conviction removal, clinic organizers explained, will allow individuals—many of whom committed a crime and served their time years, and even decades, ago—to find work and housing, take care of their families, and generally rebuild their lives.

“Fighting for individuals wanting their records expunged can be disheartening; I believe in hope,” Marianne Darnell, the president of the Black Women’s Political Caucus of Muskegon County, said in a press release. “The majority of individuals who are eligible for expungement don’t try because they fear the justice system, and it is hard to navigate. We want to change that. There is hope, and we can help.”

At the event, volunteer attorneys will assist participants to prepare to petition the court to remove their conviction. The first 100 registered participants will receive a free Internet Criminal History Access Tool (ICHAT) report. Individuals registering after the first 100 people can still attend but will need to bring $10 for the ICHAT fee, which will be payable by cash or credit card.

Those interested in attending the clinic should register in advance by clicking here.

Thursday’s event is one of 19 projects that are part of Livability Laba community-wide effort to find ways to systemically increase equity for everyone in Muskegon County. It also follows other expungement clinics offered by the same partners.

“Through our work with Livability Lab, we identified that one way to create more equity for Muskegon County is through expungement,” Kathy Rohlman, the talent solutions manager at West Michigan Works!, said in the same press release. “Having convictions set aside offers greater opportunities for individuals to gain training, employment and housing, which changes their financial and mental outlook.” 

Current state law, MCL 780.621, allows people to apply to have one felony or two misdemeanors expunged. Individuals with one felony and up to two misdemeanors may have the felony expunged, and those with up to two misdemeanors and no other offenses may have both offenses cleared from their record.

A conviction cannot be expunged if it’s punishable by life; if it’s criminal sexual conduct of the first, second or third degree; if it’s a traffic offense; or if it’s child abuse in the first or second degree. Additionally, to be eligible for expungement, at least five years must have passed since the end of one’s time served or probation has concluded. 

Removing an individual’s conviction can help open the doors to everything from employment to being able to secure housing. According to a 2018 study from the University of Michigan, people who have a conviction set aside are 11 percent more likely to be employed and see a 22 percent increase in income. A 2018 report form the Prison Policy Initiative stated that 27.3 percent of people with records in the United States are “persistently unemployed.”

Expungements are “associated with a significant increase in employment and average wages,” the University of Michigan study said.

In the first year following the conviction being wiped from a person’s record, their probability of employment rises from about 58.6 percent to 65.1 percent, according to the University Michigan study. Over that same time period, individuals’ average quarterly wages rose by about 22 percent, which can largely be attributed to being able to find consistent work.

Research by Talent 2025a group of about 100-plus CEOs from West Michigan—indicates that, in 2018, only 504 of the more than 31,000 employers in the region hired returning citizens. (Which research has found is not a smart business move: according to the ACLU, businesses’ retention rates are higher with employees that have records, turnover is lower, and those with criminal histories are more loyal to their employers.) In previous interviews with the Muskegon Times, clinic organizers emphasized that reentering citizens—individuals who have completed their sentences and are now rebuilding their lives—who are unable to connect with employment face a much greater risk of returning to prison.

“If I can’t get a job because I have a felony and my family’s hungry, what am I going to do?” Muskegon County Public Defender Fred Johnson said in a previous interview. “There’s your recidivism right there. If I can get a job, I can pay taxes; I can do my share to keep schools running and roads repaired; I can go out and buy food for my family. There’s a direct link between opportunity and recidivism, and one of the major barriers to opportunity is a criminal history.”

The expungement clinic will be held at Muskegon’s West Michigan Works! (316 Morris Ave.) from 2-8pm on Thursday, Jan. 16. For more information, you can go here, and to register for the event, please click here.

Story by Anna Gustafson, the publisher and editor of Muskegon Times. You can connect with her by emailing MuskegonTimes@gmail.com or on FacebookTwitter and Instagram

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