Oct. 30, 2020 – In Wisconsin, nearly 1.4 million adults have a criminal record, including 42% of Milwaukee’s job seekers.
Too often, instead of punishment ending with the successful completion of a sentence, ex-offenders find themselves punished for a lifetime. Research has shown that the consequences of a criminal record can be a life-long barrier to success, presenting obstacles to employment, housing, and education. Though it is illegal for employers and landlords to discriminate based on a criminal record, it still happens regularly. Having the opportunity for a judge to expunge a criminal record can help alleviate workforce shortages, prevent reoffending, and increase personal income, keeping individuals and families financially secure and free from government assistance.1
Employers and workforce leaders recognize that criminal justice reform can reduce overall taxpayer costs and dramatically improve the labor market and life outcomes for people with criminal records. To get there, Wisconsin’s laws need major reform.
Wisconsin’s system is unique and overly restrictive compared to the rest of the nation (Wis. Statutes Sec. 973.015).
Ours is the only state in the nation that:
- Requires judges to determine eligibility when somebody is sentenced, instead of when they are released.
- Does not permit expungement for closed cases, even if they meet all other criteria.
Wisconsin is one of only a couple states that:
- Limits expungement eligibility to offenses that occur before age 25.
There is broad, bipartisan support for common-sense reforms to Wisconsin’s expungement system, especially for one-time, non-violent ex-offenders. Recently, a bill passed the Assembly with an overwhelming majority voice vote, and had the support of a majority of State Senators (AB 33). Unfortunately, the bill failed to pass the Senate in the wake of the COVID pandemic.
The State Bar of Wisconsin represents the legal profession in our state, and as such, advocates for public policy that enhances access to justice for all citizens. The State Bar believes it is time to reform our state’s outdated laws on expungement—in this case, people’s ability to clear their record of a single, lower level, non-violent criminal offense if they haven't had any other run-ins with the law. But to make legislative change happen, lawmakers will need to hear the voice of our thousands of attorney members.
Get involved in the effort today by going to wisbar.org/GovRelations and signing up for our Advocacy Network today. Doing so will keep you up to date on what’s happening with State Bar legislative advocacy, and send action alerts when contact with your local lawmakers is needed most.
1) Wisconsin Policy Forum. “A Fresh Start: Wisconsin's Atypical Expungement Law and Options for Reform” June 2018