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.
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?”