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Expungement to help hike employment

News Photo by Julie Riddle Shawna McManus, expungement navigator for Michigan Works! Northeast Consortium, reviews an expungement file in the Alpena Michigan Works! office on Monday.

ALPENA — More resumes may soon cross the desks of Northeast Michigan employers, thanks to recently changed laws and an agency helping residents with old criminal convictions get jobs.

Michigan’s Clean Slate legislation, which took effect in April, expands the number of people eligible to expunge their criminal records, allowing them to no longer report an arrest or conviction on job applications.

Every day, residents contact a new Alpena-area expungement navigator, hopeful they can lay down the burden of long-ago mistakes and improve their chances of contributing to the local workforce, according to Angie Asam, special initiatives manager for Michigan Works! Northeast Consortium.

The organization’s expungement navigator offers assistance, including free legal help from an attorney, to people hoping to clean their slate of old crimes. Such help will, Asam hopes, help counteract a serious labor shortage in the Alpena area and elsewhere.

“Everyone makes mistakes,” Asam said. “To hold that against somebody for the rest of their life is detrimental for the entire region.”

People with criminal records — one in three Americans, according to the Sentencing Project, which advocates to reduce incarceration — receive half as many follow up calls after submitting a job application as those with clean records, Asam said on Monday.

That morning, a man in his 40s emailed Asam to ask for help expunging a mistake he made at 19.

“He still has to check that box when he applies for a job,” she said. “That shows you how long it can affect someone’s life.”

Former crimes or arrests can also impede people who want to obtain a professional license, secure a home, or chaperone a child’s field trip.

Residents have long had the option of requesting expungement, but few qualified, and only 7% of those eligible applied, according to Safe and Just Michigan, a crime-related advocacy organization.

Now, courts consider people with up to three felonies and an unlimited number of misdemeanors eligible for expungement, within some parameters. Courts will not expunge felony domestic violence, sexual assault, or child abuse charges.

Last month, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed legislation approving expungement of some drunk driving offenses. Those changes will not take effect until February, according to Asam.

A year after expungement, people are more likely to be employed and earning higher wages, preliminary research from the University of Michigan finds, according to the national coalition Clean Slate Initiative.

The Northeast Michigan-based Michigan Works! consortium hired an expungement navigator this spring, anticipating a surge of requests for help. The Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity provided $4 million, shared among Michigan Works! offices statewide, which funds an Alpena attorney who will assess expungement requests and handle associated legal issues.

Since spring, the Michigan Works! Northeast Consortium has fielded more than 100 inquiries from people looking for help clearing larcenies, embezzlement, misdemeanor marijuana offenses, and other court matters from their criminal record.

The calls keep coming, and the callers are hopeful and excited at the prospect of a clean start, according to Expungement Navigator Shawna McManus.

Alpena County Prosecutor Cynthia Muszynski confirmed expungement cases have increased greatly in Alpena County courts since Clean Slate laws took effect. A fresh start helps many people, she said, adding that, in some cases, a victim’s repercussions last even longer than the lingering effects of a conviction.

With more “Help wanted” than “Open” signs in much of Northeast Michigan, enabling more people to achieve gainful employment will help the region’s employers get back to regular business hours and full staffs, Asam said.

Once their records are expunged, residents can get another boost into employment via other services offered by Michigan Works!, such as resume building, GED assistance, and job training, including financial help for commercial drivers license and other training.

“We need to feed the talent pipeline and help as many people get back into the workforce as possible,” Asam said. “It helps everyone.”

For more information:

To learn Michigan expungement basics, visit the self-help tools page at michiganlegalhelp.org.

To request help with an expungement, call the Alpena Michigan Works! Northeast Consortium office at 989-356-3339.

This story has been edited to reflect that 7% of people eligible for expungement applied before the passage of Michigan’s Clean Slate legislation. The percentage was incorrect in a previous version of the story.

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