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Detroit expands its expungement program as new law widens eligibility

Oralandar Brand-Williams
The Detroit News

 Detroit is expanding its criminal record expungement program, Mayor Mike Duggan announced Thursday.

 Project Clean Slate assists applicants in wiping old criminal records clean. The program is expanding as a new state law, effective April 11, widens the number and types of offenses eligible for expungement.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan speaks at a news conference at Detroit Public Safety Headquarters on Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021.

Duggan lobbied state officials and lawmakers for the expansion.

At a news conference at the Detroit police headquarters downtown, Duggan praised the new law, signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in October, saying old criminal records have been a "huge barrier" to some city residents being able to find employment and improve their lives.

"We have a lot of very talented people who committed a crime, served their sentence and who would like to get on with their lives and get their records expunged," Duggan said. "So the city of Detroit has become a lawyer for some of our residents."

Carrie Jones, the director of Clean Slate, said Thursday the program has given many applicants a new lease on life.

From better-paying jobs to greater housing opportunities, Jones said most applicants say their lives have improved by having old criminal offenses removed from their record.

Under the new law, applicants are allowed to have automatic expungement of up to two felonies and four misdemeanors in a lifetime. Criminal offenses such as murder, rape and driving under the influence or a driving offense in which someone was killed are not eligible for expungement, Jones and Duggan said.

"This is a huge barrier to our residents in being able to build the kind of lives that they want," said Duggan. "Our expungement team, is ready right now. They will be your lawyer. They will handle the process and they will get you all the way through. You don't have to pay anything."

In encouraging those with past criminal records to sign up for the expungements, Duggan said he wants residents with old offenses to be successful and stay in the city to help rebuild Detroit.  

Clean Slate has received 6,000 applications for its program, which was established in late 2016. About 700 Detroiters have had their records expunged, the mayor said.

"This create a way to open up a lot of opportunities for Detroiters and everyone," Jones said. "There are a lot of things that can be impacted like housing."

Stephani LaBelle, the lead attorney for Clean Slate, said city lawyers walk the applicants through the process and go to court with them. LaBelle said an expungement is one of the most important events of applicants' lives.

"The big thing is the removal of the stigma," said LaBelle. "It's really an overwhelming feeling."

Metro Detroit defense attorneys like Todd Perkins said the law and expanded efforts to help those seeking expungements provide a great opportunity to individuals who have "paid their dues" to society.

"I'm obviously elated to see the momentum continuing to be less punitive," he said. "These individuals will be able to get better-paying jobs to be able to take care of their families, which will benefit society."

Perkins added that "the trend (in criminal justice) is focusing on less punishment and more of an answer" as part of restorative justice efforts aimed at helping released inmates re-enter society.

Detroit assistant police chief Todd Bettison said the expanded expungement law and Detroit's Clean Slate program "will definitely be able to help a lot of people."

Bettison encouraged Detroiters who want help to reach out to the city and sign up.

"Let's get those records expunged," he said. "It'll offer hope. It's definitely uplift for our city."

For more information about the Clean Slate program, log on to detroitmi.gov/projectcleanslate or call (313) 237-3024.