Just as before the pandemic, our employers need employees. Reforming our expungement system is one tool to help get unemployed and underemployed talent off the sidelines and into the workforce. We simply cannot adequately fuel Wisconsin’s booming economy for the long term if we do not address the state’s labor shortage.
Expungement provides non-violent offenders with a fresh start. Expungement means sealing a criminal record if the judge finds that the offender will benefit and society will not be harmed. When an eligible criminal record is expunged, it becomes sealed from public access records, such as Wisconsin Circuit Court Access, used by many employers to screen potential employees. This enables people with non-violent criminal backgrounds a fresh start after they’ve paid their debt to society. Currently, expungement in Wisconsin is only eligible to those who have committed a non-violent crime no greater than a Class H felony and have no previous felonies. We believe those parameters make sense and should stay in place.
However, other aspects of Wisconsin’s current expungement law need reform. For example, Wisconsin is the only state in the nation that requires judges to determine expungement eligibility when somebody is sentenced, instead of when they are released. This is the only time that expungement is possible in Wisconsin. In other words, judges are asked to decide whether expungement is appropriate very soon after the crime has been committed, rather than a year or more later, when the defendant’s rehabilitation (or lack thereof) is more readily apparent. Wisconsin is also one of a few states that limits expungement eligibility to offenses that occur before age 25.
The Alliance and MMAC recently partnered to provide joint testimony in support of Senate Bill 78, which would make common-sense revisions to the court process for Wisconsin’s existing expungement law and bring it in line with most of the country. A copy of the full testimony is available below.
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