Expungement may offer convicted felons a second chance

Individuals in Wisconsin convicted on drug charges, may not immediately understand the repercussions on the rest of their lives. They cannot legally vote or own a gun. Obtaining housing may become problematic. Landlords often block people who have served a prison sentence and lenders typically refuse mortgages. Employment applications also ask if potential employees have a felony conviction as the policy of many companies prohibits hiring convicts.

As a result of these restrictions, a large percentage of parolees fall back into old habits, unable to move forward. According to a Michigan University Law School study, over 19 million Americans have felony convictions. More than half of these individuals and their families face financial hardship as a result. For those with non-violent histories, evidence shows that expungement can reduce these consequences. Some states already automatically expunge adult, non-violent convictions if the person remains crime-free for a specified time.

In Wisconsin, residents younger than 25 at the time of a non-violent, low-level felony or misdemeanor conviction may request that the court expunge their record. The Sheboygan Press reports that this means removing the case from the state Circuit Court Access website. This site allows anyone to enter a name, checking for previous arrests or convictions. Even though it may violate state law, employers still check an applicant’s history there.

Studies show that crime rates, homelessness and unemployment fall when people have a realistic opportunity to regain a productive place in their community. Expungement can give Wisconsin residents a second chance at a normal life. They can regain the career trajectory and earning potential they had before the conviction.