‘Clean slate’ law for offenders could be boon for business

Mike Jardine was convicted of stealing a video projector from Grand Valley State University in 2004. His probation lasted 18 months, but in some ways, his sentence never ended.

“You go to apply for a job, and you fill out an application, and you get to a box where they ask have you ever been convicted of a crime,” Jardine said. “You fill out an application and you hope they hire you, but inevitably they never call.”

The 49-year-old Muskegon resident with an associate’s degree and a bachelor’s degree in criminology and a combat veteran of the first Persian Gulf War, couldn’t find steady work. The few jobs he could get paid minimum wage. He’s spent long stretches of time unemployed, surviving on food stamps and help from relatives.

“There’s no avenue that this doesn’t affect. I can’t articulate in words how it feels. You can’t breathe.”

Jardine had his felony conviction expunged in early 2015, but many Michigan residents with felony and misdemeanor convictions continue to have trouble finding jobs because of their records.

Thousands of Michigan residents convicted of felonies and misdemeanors would have their record automatically wiped clean by a bill soon to be introduced in the Michigan Legislature by Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge.

More coverage: Poll: Michigan voters strongly favor prison reform

If enacted, the “clean slate” law would make it easier for Michigan residents with criminal records to get jobs, and open a pool of potential employees to state companies desperately seeking workers. That can be a big deal, since one in three adults have a felony or misdemeanor conviction, according to the U.S. Justice Action Network, a national corrections reform organization. Last year, 10,000 Michigan residents were on parole, with a full third of them living in Detroit.

“At some point, society has to take its boot off the neck of these people and give them a chance. If you have skin in the game, if you let them have gainful employment, if you make them part of society again, they are less likely to recidivate.” ‒ Mike Jardine

Details haven’t been worked yet, and the bill is still being drafted, said Jones. The bill would mandate that records for nonviolent crimes be wiped from a person’s record if that person does not reoffend for a specified amount of time, perhaps five years. Violent offense and sex offenses likely would exempted from the law.

Police would continue to have access to criminal records, but offenders whose records are wiped clean would no longer have to check the box on job applications acknowledging that they’ve been convicted of crimes. Currently, many companies ask job applicants if they have been convicted of a crime – some specify felonies, some include misdemeanors.

Jones, a former Eaton County sheriff, said he believes the legislation would be a win for nonviolent offenders trying to start their lives over, and for employers looking for good workers.

For employers, “it limits their liability, because they didn’t hire someone with a criminal record, they hired someone with a clean slate,” Jones said.

Jones said he expects his clean slate bill to be introduced this fall.

Former state representative Joe Haveman, the legislature’s leading corrections reform advocate before leaving last year because of term limits, said he thinks the clean slate legislation is “fantastic” for employers and past offenders.

“After five years, if you don’t reoffend, the chances of you committing a crime is the same as anyone else,” Haveman said. Jones’ clean slate bill “sends a clear message that criminals can be reformed, and that they can get rid of that label.”

The Michigan Chamber of Commerce declined comment on the proposal because the organization had not seen the bill. But Haveman said business leaders he’s spoken to are excited about the possibility of removing the criminal label from some offenders.

“The business community will love it,” Haveman said.

Currently, offenders in Michigan can ask that their records be expunged, but offenders must go to court to make that request. Under the clean slate bill, records would be wiped automatically for a lot of offenders.

Jardine went to court and had his record expunged in March; by May, he had a job as a security guard. It’s a job he couldn’t have gotten without his record being expunged. He can now serve on jury duty. He can also do something he’s waited a decade to do ‒ serve as a chaperone on field trips for his child.

“Did you know they do background checks for chaperones?” Jardine said. “I’ve never been able to be a chaperone. This year, I’m going to change that.”

This type of community reinvestment is not only good for individuals who made mistakes earlier in their lives, but for the Michigan economy, Jardine said.

“At some point, society has to take its boot off the neck of these people and give them a chance,” he said. “If you have skin in the game, if you let them have gainful employment, if you make them part of society again, they are less likely to recidivate. They have more to lose now. They have a future, something tangible they can hold on to.

“If you take it away from them,” Jardine said, “what do they have to look forward to?”

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Jim Brown
Tue, 10/13/2015 - 10:28am
For some offenses this makes a lot of sense and should be enacted as soon as possible. If the person has a relapse and does something stupid again, keep them jailed for the entire time, no mercy given.
Tue, 10/13/2015 - 11:33am
Why should there be any exclusions? Politics?!! Maybe longer supervision or counseling, but if you are going to let someone out of prison into society then why continue the punishment force them into the margin of society where re-offending is a reasonable choice? This seems to be a valuable carrot not to use it. Otherwise keep them jailed.
Tue, 10/13/2015 - 12:59pm
"The Michigan Chamber of Commerce declined comment on the proposal because the organization had not seen the bill. But Haveman said business leaders he’s spoken to are excited about the possibility of removing the criminal label from some offenders. “The business community will love it,” Haveman said."What I found humorous, no sad really, is that all of these people advocating for this ill-conceived bill is that they never approached the business community FIRST. You would think that a termed out, former state rep would be aware of that little detail on something he is lobbying for. I'm not aware of any company willing to hire an applicant who has a criminal record, regardless of how "minor" is was or how long ago.
W Con
Thu, 10/15/2015 - 3:30pm
Businesses all over Michigan hire thousands of ex-offenders every year. Ex-offenders are the last hired first fired and often start out at pretty lousy jobs but with a tight labor market in West Michigan many are getting hired. Businesses would like an easier law to wipe records clean because they would not have to admit to people like you they hire ex offenders. By the way the least likely people to return to prison are murderers followed closely by sex offenders.
Tue, 10/13/2015 - 3:58pm
If it sounds to good to be true it is. No one wants to hire anyone who has a record. It doesn't matter if it is a felony or misdeamor. you can have 1 felony expunged if you can afford an attorney. It's a full time job trying to find a job.
Tue, 10/13/2015 - 7:20pm
@KG-1...."I’m not aware of any company willing to hire an applicant who has a criminal record, regardless of how “minor” is was or how long ago"......unfortunately you are very misinformed...many companies have and are hiring these workers including Krogers and many service businesses. I am a small business owner and I would hire them all day long, as long as they have not re-offended. As a society, we have to be willing to give second chances to our non-violent offenders, otherwise we will simply be paying for them as a burden on society forever, since they cannot earn a living. That makes absolutely no sense just because they made a bad decision at some point in their lives. Candidly, all of us have as well...what separates us is that we did not get caught and they did.
Wed, 10/14/2015 - 9:10am
If you feel comfortable making that decision to hire someone with a record, CLW, then all the power to you. Just don't take away that piece of information from prospective employers on exactly what the background of the applicant sitting in front of them at their next interview really is. Not everyone shares your worldview.
Wed, 10/14/2015 - 4:12pm
Fortunately in the US we can all have differing opinions. I thought that truth-in-sentencing laws, sentence guideline regulations were to create better justice for society. So if there are mandatory minimums, parole/probation programs, why can't ex-cons remove the scarlet letter? Why do they have to be labeled forever? I might add everyone breaks the law, if you don't follow the speed limit you are breaking a misdemeanor law - if you cause an accident with bodily injury, you can be charged with a felony. Everyone may be one wrong decision from having to be labeled for the rest of their lives. Also, there are a few programs for employers to earn incentives for hiring felons, and there is a fed based bond program for some who qualify to limit employer risk. Just my thoughts. Thanks everyone!
Thu, 10/15/2015 - 2:53pm
There is a huge difference between someone going five over and that same person knocking over a few liquor stores because they were undergoing "hard times" in their life. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that you are very aware of hat difference as well, Jean. If you are a business owner and want to roll the dice on a prospective employee with a record, then by all means have at it. Some businesses, on the other hand, aren't willing to take that risk. Those same companies should not be in the kept dark because someone else with absolutely nothing at stake, wanted to assuage their conscience by risking other people's money.
Thu, 10/15/2015 - 5:33pm
Breaking the law is breaking the law, speeding or otherwise. You're judging without knowing ANYTHING about the situation that could have driven that person to commit the crime OR if they were innocent and took a plea rather than face mandatory minimums. If you were facing 20-Life for something you didn't do and you couldn't afford a GOOD lawyer, you'd take a plea to 10. Claim innocence and go to court and sent upstate for the max. Parole comes and you maintain that innocence? Parole DENIED because you're not repentant. Just imagine that was YOU or your kid picked up for something you didn't do and I'm sure you'll feel differently. Criminal record does not always mean one is a criminal.
Gloria Woods
Wed, 10/14/2015 - 1:01am
I totally support this idea as a way for these folks to move on with their lives, get a job, support themselves and their families. It's a win-win.
Carol Stevens
Wed, 10/14/2015 - 10:03am
I think it's a great idea. How in the world are they supposed to get jobs and turn their lives around if no one ever gives them a chance? I know someone who got into heroin and got arrested, served time and is now clean, no drugs at all for over a year. He just can't find a decent job anywhere because of the felonies on his record. If he is staying off drugs and wants a job, why not let an employer give him a job? Let's be real about all of this!!!!
Wed, 10/14/2015 - 10:04am
I think this would be a wonderful Bill to have passed. It is very unfortunate to a person that felt they were in a position they felt they otherwise had no other choice than to commit a crime; Maybe trying to support their family, or for whatever reason, you pay for the crime, you do the time, you learn from it and you try to get your life in order. I know many people in church who turned their lives over to God who have committed a crime, they most regretted it and the shame it brought to their families and really sought God to free them from any impulses outside of Him and from the guilt and shame they brought on their families. They end up being the hardest workers once given that big CHANCE they otherwise never thought they would have. Now, on the other hand, I know many attorneys and government officials that drink and drive and act recklessly and feel they can just "get out of it." How fair is that to someone just looking for a chance from their mistake and someone abusing their authority and being MORE CRIMINAL than the ones labeled as the criminal?! I do believe God gives second chances. We are an imperfect people and we've all made mistakes and to learn and grow we need second chances to prevent repeating that same mistake. For the many unforgiving people that can't find in their hearts the injustice of the justice system and really feel the need to keep labeling the ones who "got caught" from the ones who "will never get caught" and think that's ok to keep lives in shambles and risk our communities to suffer because they need to survive too, then I'm really praying for you and I ask God to open your eyes to the truth. These people have families to support too. There are a few businesses that take in these people with open arms and understanding but not many. I believe businesses will grow. These people can even open up their own businesses from saving their money from their "second chances" and have employees and here we create jobs. I don't believe for a moment that anyone should pay their whole life. God doesn't believe so and who are we to think so?!
Wed, 10/14/2015 - 4:07pm
This is an important initiative and I hope people will be open to supporting it. Once you've done your time including parole/probation, you should no longer be required to claim your criminal history. Wasn't your time locked up and on parole/probation your payment to society. The scarlet letter needs to be removed. Fortunately there are companies actively hiring ex-cons. And actually there are a few incentive programs for employers to hire past criminals, including a bonding program support by the federal gov. It isn't much but it can help. I know from personal experience. Please don't condemn us for the rest of our lives, let us remove the label and move forward as law-abiding citizens earning a fair wage. Thank you.
Thu, 10/15/2015 - 10:58pm
"The Clemency Report named Richard Wershe Jr., a 46-year-old with a colorful past, as Michigan's inmate most deserving of clemency. He was arrested for cocaine at age 17, in May 1987, and has been serving his life for this single, non-violent offense ever since. Richard gained fame in the Detroit area as "White Boy Rick" when the DEA and other officers used him as an informant starting at age 14. He was busted for possession with intent to distribute eight kilograms of cocaine at age 17. He has been turned down for parole three times and will be eligible again in 2017. His case has been detailed in many news stories and further information can be found at the Free Richard Wershe Jr. Facebook page." - http://clemencyreport.org/richard-wershe-jr-named-michigans-no-1-inmate-...
Thu, 10/15/2015 - 10:59pm
"Rick Wershe’s battle for freedom continues. He suffered another legal setback when the Michigan Court of Appeals rejected a Detroit judge’s plan to re-sentence him to time served. It may be time to start fighting for Wershe’s civil rights. This post explains why there is a good case to be made that his civil rights have been and continue to be violated." - http://www.thedimedroppers.com/2015/10/cruel-and-unusual-punishment.htmlInformation, documents, links, etc related to Rick Wershe and his case:https://www.facebook.com/freewhiteboyrickwershehttp://www.thedimedroppers.com/https://read.atavist.com/white-boy-rick?no-overlay&previewhttp://www.change.org/petitions/free-white-boy-rick-wershehttp://www.huffingtonpost.com/dean-dauphinais/an-open-letter-to-michigan...
Mike Jardine
Fri, 10/16/2015 - 9:39am
I think that if we don't allow people to move past their criminal records, then, we are inviting disaster and we will reap the whirlwind of our contempt and lust for Revenge....'cause, let's face it, it ain't Justice anymore 5-10 years after the completion of sentence, it's Revenge at that point. Revenge that enfeebles, not strengthens, our society. Revenge that actively demonstrates how cheap, petty and cruel we are, not how kind, forgiving and decent we are. All I found in the 11 years since my conviction was all stick and no carrot. But I was lucky, far luckier than most, to have a family who would not allow me to fall or fail. Without them, I don't, honestly, know where I'd be right now. Having heavily campaigned for the passage of the current expungement law, I can say that it is still hard because I have been so public about it. I fear everyone knowing and using it against me still. My very public presence has made it impossible for me to hide in plain sight. Social media and public news has reported on me. I have even been on TV. So, as far as my conviction being hidden, it is the worst kept "secret" ever. In order to have the law passed and help, literally, thousands of people like me, I gave up any hope of my past staying there in the past. That is no small thing. None of you naysayers here have ever walked a mile in my shoes. Until you do, you should not judge me.
Sat, 10/17/2015 - 8:03am
We don't need to judge you...someone wearing a black robe already did. Past performance is a fairly good predictor of future behavior. A fact that someone holding a BA in criminology should be cognizant of.
Mon, 11/30/2015 - 5:25pm
While we're at it, repeal or eliminate the Driver's Responsibility Fee. A young man spent two years in prison, gets out and owes the state $8000.00 for the offenses the sent him to jail. With no drivers license, he cannot get a decent job to pay back the 8k. Isn't the two years enough punishment? He most likely will drive anyway, get caught,and go back to prison. Doesn't seem right.
Amy Swanderski
Sun, 02/28/2016 - 8:27pm
I applaud you Mike Jardine, for campaigning and supporting this bill. Yes, it is very unfortunate that when someone makes a negative choice, they have to wear the dreaded "scarlet letter" for the rest of their lives. I work for the DHHS here in Chippewa County, and I have witnessed many who have suffered because of plea deals resulting in wrongful convictions. I have also worked for the ESG grant to help the homeless find long term sustainable housing. Those with convictions had no recourse other than a shelter. The system is broken and needs to be fixed. Holding people back from employment and housing helps no one, and could possibly lead to desperation and deviance.
Sun, 02/28/2016 - 10:51pm
While living in Idaho, I got in a bar fight. I was 37, and had no prior criminal history. Because I defended myself, and the person who began the fight was hospitalized, the authorities came for me. When approached, I was standing in a mud puddle as it was raining. Because I would not get down into the mud, and instead put my hands behind my head and asked them to come and get me, I thought I would get charged with resisting arrest. Since there was a knife on my belt, I was accused of having a deadly weapon. I was arrested, and charged with a felonious assault with a deadly weapon on a police officer. I spent a night in jail, then the prosecutor threw it out, since there was a discrepancy in the report having to do with location of both officers on the scene, and due to the fact that I did not pull the knife off my belt. The two witnesses had a solid opposing report, compared to the officers, who happened to be husband (chief of police) and wife. Therefore, I was not required to go to court, and there was no conviction of a crime.This occurred in 2009, and to this day, this incident remains on my record. In Chippewa County Michigan, in 2011, my girlfriend at the time attempted suicide, which resulted in her becoming a paraplegic. She purposely jumped into a shallow pool twice at her sister's home, while I was at another location. Her mother accused me of pushing her into the pool, and I told her that she had to leave my residence, since she was living with us at the time. She left the house, and called the police, accusing me of pulling a gun on her. Upon arriving on the scene, a gun was not found on myself nor the premises by the police officers. When I went to jail, my girlfriends mom dropped the charges. The state picked up the charges. The public defender informed me that I was being charged with the :similar law" due to the incident in Idaho.The public defender also informed me that they did not need to witness a weapon in order to charge me. They told me I was automatically guilty, and if I did not take the plea deal, I would go to prison anyway, no matter if I were guilty or not. They said if I were to go to jury trial, it did not matter, I was already guilty, and if I went to trial, I would do more time. I did 10 months in county jail, and 1 year on tether. The jail fees resulted in a $9000 bill, which destroyed my credit.. Because of the injustice of being charged with a felony based upon the "similar law" in Michigan, concerning an "incident" opposed to a "crime", for the past 5 years, I cannot obtain long term sustainable housing, nor find employment.I am living on food stamps and assistance from the local DHHS. I am desolate, and would like to know what are my options at this point? I am at a dead end. If there is anyone out there that could possibly offer any type of advice or direction, please reply. Thank you.