Jan. 29, 2021 – 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. In January 2021, a bipartisan group of lawmakers led by Senators Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) and Kelda Roys (D-Madison) and Representatives David Steffen (R-Green Bay) and Evan Goyke (D-Milwaukee) introduced a bill to reform expungement. The bill builds on past efforts in previous legislative sessions, which gained the support of the majority of Wisconsin's legislature, but failed to receive a full floor vote in the Senate.
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 The State Bar believes it is time to reform our state’s outdated laws on expungement—in this case, people’s ability to clear their record of a single, lower level, non-violent criminal offense if they haven't had any other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 send a message of support for expungement reform to your state lawmakers. It only takes a minute of your time, but makes a large difference.
1) Wisconsin Policy Forum. “A Fresh Start: Wisconsin's Atypical Expungement Law and Options for Reform” June 2018