Programs help convicts clear their records, find jobs

Print More
Aaron Kinzel is a lecturer in criminal justice studies at the University of Michigan-Dearborn and the co-founder of the nonprofit Second Chance Battalion.

University of Michigan-Dearborn

Aaron Kinzel is a lecturer in criminal justice studies at the University of Michigan-Dearborn and the co-founder of the nonprofit Second Chance Battalion.

By ANISH TOPIWALA
Capital News Service 

LANSING – Aaron Kinzel is developing his Monroe County farm into a safe haven for former prisoners, as well as homeless veterans who had been incarcerated..

He currently holds workshops for them to develop job skills at his Petersburg farm as part of a nonprofit he co-founded, Second Chance Battalion.

That would not have been possible without a farm loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture – a loan that would have been inaccessible if an old felony had not been expunged – removed – from his record through the Michigan Clean Slate Initiative. 

The law, which went into effect on April 11, 2021, changed the paper application processes and eligible offenses that may be set aside, according to the State Police.

At the same time, a related law took effect which created an automatic process to set aside certain convictions without an application. 

Due to the complexity of creating an automatic system to expunge convictions, a two- year planning stage was set into motion, and the new system was launched last April.

Those with misdemeanor convictions punishable by jail for 92 days or less can have an unlimited number of convictions automatically expunged. There is a four-misdemeanors limit for charges punishable for longer, according to the State Police website.

All misdemeanors can be expunged seven years after a sentence was imposed.

There is a limit of two felony expungements after 10 years following sentencing. 

As of Feb. 5, around 1,394,000 convictions had been set aside automatically, according to the State Police. Around 907,000 ex-offenders have had at least one conviction set aside automatically.

Since the start of automatic expungements, 282,282 people now had a clean record as of Feb. 5, State Police figures show..

Kinzel, who now is a faculty member in criminology and criminal justice at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, had a long history with the justice system. He served time behind bars from the ages of 18 to 28 and pursued higher education after being released.

He worked with advocacy groups, including Safe & Just Michigan, to push for the Clean Slate Initiative.

“We were the lead organization for the Clean Slate campaign here,” said John Cooper, the executive director of the group. 

Safe & Just Michigan, alongside the Attorney General’s Office and other organizations, has been running expungement fairs across Michigan since the law went into effect.

“We’ve done between 50 and 100 fairs since April 2021,” Cooper said. “Every corner of the state, we’ve gone to the UP and done fairs there. 

“We’ve done a ton of them across Southeast Michigan, West Michigan, Mid-Michigan, and it’s been a great experience for everybody,” he said.

The fairs provide information about the initiative and assist those eligible with applications. They also provide legal advice from attorneys from legal aid organizations and the Attorney General’s Office.

“It’s really setting people up with an application and then some tips on how to engage with the court in the hearing,” Cooper said.

Since not every ex-offender may be eligible for automatic expungement, the fairs provide guidance to those who may need to appear in court for an expungement hearing.


Safe & Just Michigan is primarily responsible for organizing the events and has served an estimated 8,000 people through fairs so far, according to Cooper.

Its next fair, the Detroit Pistons Second Chance Summit, will be March 1 at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit. 

A cleared record opens opportunities.

Employment is the most important opportunity, according to Michael Harrington, an associate professor of criminal justice at Northern Michigan University.

“When you look at people trying to find a job after a conviction, that stigma of a prior conviction can decrease employment opportunities,” Harrington said. “If you have put a criminal conviction on the application, the callback is 50% less likely.”

According to a study by University of Michigan law professor J.J. Prescott and University of Chicago law professor Sonja Starr,, those who had convictions expunged saw a 23% increase in income in the first year. Their employment rates went up by 11% as well, the study in the Harvard Law Review said.

Certain offenders can also requalify for federal assistance, housing aid and food stamps, according to Harrington. 

In addition, Safe & Just Michigan is advocating for the state to create a free online portal where people can check their records, Cooper said.

With planning underway, it could be available to the public in the next two years, he said.

Michael Harrington is an associate professor of criminal justice at Northern Michigan University

University of Northern Michigan

Michael Harrington is an associate professor of criminal justice at Northern Michigan University