Modernizing expungement law in Wisconsin
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United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County

Modernizing expungement law in Wisconsin

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September 26, 2019

Written in partnership with Milwaukee Metropolitan Association of Commerce, United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County, and Waukesha County Business Alliance

How do you measure the power of a job? For many, it’s measured in dollars and cents—money needed to pay for everyday expenses like housing, food, education and insurance.

For others, the power of a job goes much further than money. It’s about value and worth. It’s about confidence, empowerment and living with a purpose.

And society functions best when people who can work, work. When we all have a sense of purpose and contribute to moving our society forward, we make the most progress.

But despite the low unemployment rate and thousands of open jobs in southeast Wisconsin alone, there are barriers to employment that exist today and prohibit individuals from obtaining jobs.

In Wisconsin, nearly 1.4 million adults have a criminal record, including 42% of Milwaukee’s job seekers. Ex-offenders often experience “collateral consequences” that haunt them well after they have paid their debt to society. Many vocational licenses cannot be obtained by individuals with criminal records, yet those vocations are often the jobs for which ex-offenders are most qualified. Additionally, it’s much harder for ex-offenders to get home loans, go to college or join the military. Without access to these building blocks of financial independence and stability, they become stuck in a cycle of recidivism and dependence on public assistance.

According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, ex-offenders who are employed are three to five times less likely to reoffend. And the pathway to employment after release can start with expungement.

Expungement means sealing a criminal record if the judge finds that the offender will benefit and society will not be harmed. Eligible criminal records are sealed from public access records, such as Wisconsin Circuit Court Access, which is used by many employers to screen potential employees. This gives non- violent offenders a fresh start after they’ve paid their debt to society.

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.

Wisconsin is also one of a few states that limits expungement eligibility to offenses that occur before age 25.

Senators Alberta Darling and Fred Risser and Representatives David Steffen and Evan Goyke recently unveiled bipartisan legislation that provides pathways to employment for thousands of Wisconsinites through criminal justice reform. This legislation makes common-sense revisions to the court process for Wisconsin’s outdated expungement law and brings it in line with most of the country.

Your support of this bipartisan bill is directly connected to supporting the men and women of our community who are searching for meaningful employment, which benefits all of us. The fresh start expungement offers these individuals allows them to find purpose through employment, so we can all work together to create a prosperous community for ourselves, our families, our friends and our neighbors.

Learn more about expungement reform and how you can become an advocate for change.

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