A criminal conviction follows you around after you’ve served your time in that it harms your ability to find gainful employment. It becomes an extension of your sentence.
For nonviolent youthful offenders, expungement of their record is a way to enable their past to stay in the past.
State Senate Bill 39 would allow expungement for Non-violent Class H felonies include retail theft and possession of small amounts of drugs. SB 39 also removes the age limit and the requirement that expungement be done at sentencing. It would apply for an individual who has served their sentence and to individuals whose case is closed.
Wisconsin could, should stumbling blocks arise in the Senate, look south of the state line for a way to approach expungement. As detailed in a report in Monday’s Journal Times, in Illinois’ expungement system, not all charges are eligible for expungement, and once someone has served their time, they have to stay out of trouble for a defined period of time before they can qualify for expungement.
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We recognize that there will be a need for some exceptions. An employer would want to know, for example, if a prospective employee in that company’s accounting or financial services departments committed a series of burglaries in which money was stolen.
One Illinois example Wisconsin should not follow is making expungement a costly process. In Monday’s report, Illinois state Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth, D-Peoria, estimated it costs about $7,500 there. When Gordon-Booth brought together people with criminal records and lawyers working pro bono for an expungement summit, she said, “I opened the doors at 7:30; there were already 80, 90 people waiting in the rain. All of them were African American. It was obvious how the justice system had been impacting people.”
She described a 70-year-old man, presumably retired, who told her “I just want this off me.” One woman approached her and said since her expungement, she was able to become a certified nurse. Gordon-Booth said she’s seen grown men cry.
“Because they have another chance. It is life-changing,” she said. “Three years ago, when I was doing these events, I had an elected official tell me I was holding a party for felons. I said, ‘No, this is about second chances. This is about people who have paid their debt to society.’ “ For those who made a big mistake when they were young, and have paid the penalty, expungement is a way for our society to recognize that a person has turned his or her life around, and shouldn’t continue to be held back by the mistake made years ago.
The state Senate should pass SB 39 — the Assembly has already passed it — and Gov. Tony Evers should sign it into law.