Legislators proposed a new bill to support non-violent offenders’ ability to re-enter the workforce after fulfilling their sentences by extending criminal record expungement policies.
The legislation will allow non-violent, low-level criminal offenders the opportunity to clear their record, regardless of their age, after their sentence has been completed at the discretion of a judge.
Current Wisconsin law gives only those under 25 years old the opportunity to have their record cleared upon sentencing.
The future prospects of such law changes were introduced and sponsored on a bipartisan basis by Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills; Rep. Evan Goyke, D-Milwaukee; Rep. David Steffen, R-Howard; and Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison. They believe this new policy will broaden job market outlooks and increase employment by eliminating employer bias stemming from criminal records.
Eric Bott, state director of Americans for Prosperity of Wisconsin, thinks lowering the barriers to Wisconsin’s workforce will create positive effects for those involved.
“Wisconsin should be a place where people who deserve second chances get them,” Bott stated in a press release. “Unfortunately, too few people in our state charged with low-level, non-violent crimes get a fair shot at putting their lives back together after paying their debt to society. Expungement reform can help change that.”
However, expungement law reform continues to be a topic of debate, with many authorities questioning the efficacy of such practice.
President of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council Bill Lueders voiced concern about erasing public record, believing Wisconsinites should be able to discern which aspects of an employee’s public record are telling of character and work ethic.
"I wish that it wasn’t seen as necessary to shield this information from state residents," Lueders said.
The Badger Institute undertook a joint study in which about 10,000 cases formerly expunged by Wisconsin courts were analyzed. It found that two-thirds of the crimes were minor offenses, such as drug-related misdemeanors or disorderly conduct.
Whether or not this study lends credence to the bill’s proposal is up for debate, but further expungement studies are being approached.
Former probation and parole agent and newly-elected Rep. Sheila Stubbs, D-Madison, created another alternative for removing criminal records. She founded the Dane County Community Restorative Court, which allows juvenile offenders to negate a criminal record by participating in restorative justice projects.
“I don’t want to see our dollars spent on building new prisons and putting people in prison,” Stubbs said.
This program only applies to young offenders, making Wisconsin one of seven states to base expungement policies off one’s age. It will be up to the state legislature to decide if this restriction will persist.