Forgiving felons, easing unemployment
Gov. Rick Snyder has signed a number of crime-related bills into law and among them is one piece of legislation that is as much related to the state’s unemployment rate as it is to the fair treatment of convicts.
The new law allows those convicted of a nonviolent felony or two misdemeanors to apply to have their record expunged or wiped clean.
Under the second-chance legislation, convicts can apply to a judge to get the convictions removed five years after they complete their sentences, if they’ve remained out of trouble. In fact, they can have up to one felony and two misdemeanors taken off.
The purging can be a critical factor in a convicted felon’s efforts to find work. Too often, those with a felony on their records are denied employment, even if they are more than qualified for the job.
Lack of work is a major factor in the high recidivism rate. Those felons released from prison who can’t get work may return to a life of crime. According to the Pew Center on the States, based in Washington, D.C., one in three Michigan parolees commits a crime that sends them back to prison. Also, of those who are out of prison, about 75 percent are unemployed.
The current law has broad support, from the Michigan Judges Association to the Michigan Prosecuting Attorney Association and the State Bar, among other groups.
Specific exceptions are listed in the law so that serious crime offenders will not be eligible. Also prevented from seeking to the record purge are felons that had been released early from life sentences.
Other crimes that can’t be removed from a person’s record include human trafficking, terrorism, criminal sexual conduct and certain child abuse violations, as well as felony domestic violence crimes.
Expunging a felony or misdemeanor is not guaranteed to everyone who applies. The cases are to be heard in the courts where they were convicted and prosecutors are allowed to object.
Snyder also signed legislation that gives prisoners an opportunity to earn a certificate of employability while behind bars; the certificate is given to them when they are released. The goal is to assure to prospective employers that a convict has been reformed.
Other laws limit the responsibility of employers when an ex-con commits a crime while on the job. Previously, business owners could be held liable for the actions of their workers and so felons often were not even considered for jobs.
At $2 billion, the Department of Corrections’ budget is one of the highest in the nation. Dropping the recidivism rate can only have positive effects on the bottom lines.