Bipartisan lawmakers eye next criminal justice reform: expungement legislation

By: - September 9, 2019 2:46 pm

Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo at the bipartisan expungement press conference in Detroit, Sept. 9, 2019 | Ken Coleman

Ted Kelly has a dream to become a nurse.

Ted Kelly at the bipartisan expungement press conference in Detroit, Sept. 9, 2019 | Ken Coleman

Sure, he’s made a good living as a Detroit 3 autoworker for the last 35 years, but Kelly wants more. However, the Detroit resident made a critical mistake many years ago.

“About 20 years ago I made some bad choices,” Kelly said on Monday about two felony convictions that the city of Detroit recently helped him to expunge.  

Kelly joined a group of state House lawmakers and Detroit government officials in the city to announce bipartisan legislation reforming Michigan’s expungement laws and remove barriers to employment for reformed offenders.

“This will help me to pursue higher education without having a record hanging over my head,” Kelly said. “It will open up doors.”

Bipartisan expungement press conference in Detroit, Sept. 9, 2019 | Ken Coleman

The measure would make Michigan a national leader in expungement reform, lawmakers said. The goal is “to improve Michigan’s economy, strengthen communities and broaden our pool of skilled labor by making common-sense criminal justice reforms and offering second chances to people who have earned them.”

State Rep. Graham Filler (R-DeWitt), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, and state Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo (D-Detroit) were among the lawmakers at the news conference. Also in attendance were Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and Detroit City Council Member Janee Ayers. There was another press conference scheduled this afternoon in Kalamazoo.

Criminal justice reform has been an increasingly rare area of bipartisan cooperation this term, with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signing civil asset forfeiture legislation earlier this year. The expungement package is expected to be introduced this week.

Whitmer signs bipartisan civil asset forfeiture bills

“For too long, Michigan citizens have been restricted from removing the low-level clients from their record,” Filler said. “Our reforms will remedy that issue and will affect hundreds of thousands of people.”

State Rep. Graham Filler at the bipartisan expungement press conference in Detroit, Sept. 9, 2019 | Ken Coleman

Gay-Dagnogo, who represents a portion of Detroit’s Northwest side, spoke to the bipartisan nature of the legislation.  

“While we don’t always agree on everything, regardless of which side of the out we were from — we all have our differences — but today we stand in unity and our job or our, our, our goal and our objective is to put all Michiganders back to work,” Gay-Dagnogo said.

A recent study conducted by the University of Michigan said that as “an employment intervention, [expungement] compares very favorably to job training in terms of both effectiveness [in successful reintegration with civil society] and cost effectiveness.”

Lawmakers and city officials chose the new Fiat Chrysler Automotive (FCA) automotive plant on Detroit’s Lower East side, which is under construction, for the news conference. Duggan said he hopes that the legislation will give people who may have blemishes on their record an opportunity to secure good-paying jobs.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan at the bipartisan expungement press conference in Detroit, Sept. 9, 2019 | Ken Coleman

“This is remarkable because we have far too many citizens in this state and in this city whose talents we have discarded and marginalized for way too long,” said Duggan. “Folks who paid their debt wanted to rebuild their lives. And as a state, we made it far too difficult in the last four or five years in this city.”

Ayers, who chairs the Detroit City Council Returning Citizens Taskforce, agrees with Duggan.

“We’re talking about putting people back in a space where they can have an opportunity,” Ayers said.  

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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman writes about Southeast Michigan, history and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on Black life in Detroit.