MADISON, Wis. (AP) — When Madison barber and organization owner Brian Britt, 42, stepped up to a folding table in the entryway of the Urban League of Higher Madison, he had a single target in his thoughts: Wipe from his record the decades-old criminal convictions he says are holding him back.

In 2000, at age 22, Britt was convicted of marijuana possession with intent to provide as a repeat offense and a gun charge. He served 5 years in prison.

Nineteen years later, he is hoping to make these convictions much less public. It is the subsequent step in an ongoing method, he mentioned, which involves paying back kid assistance.

“(I’m) cleaning my background up so I can get a improved life,” he mentioned, “so factors do not stagnate me like they employed to.”

It is a target shared by the roughly 20 people today who attended the Urban League expungement clinic on May well four to view their personal criminal records, study what they could be in a position to eliminate and get guidance about how to speak with employers about what they can’t.

An estimated 1.four million Wisconsinites have criminal records, according to a report by the Wisconsin Policy Forum. Research show arrest and conviction records have lingering effects, producing it tougher for folks to succeed as law-abiding citizens.

Gov. Tony Evers has proposed expungement of low-level marijuana convictions. And a bipartisan group of lawmakers has proposed expanding Wisconsin’s restrictive expungement law, which calls for that expungement need to be requested at sentencing and is only obtainable for crimes committed ahead of the age of 25. The law also permits only non-violent, low-level felonies or misdemeanors to be wiped from a person’s publicly obtainable record.


The nonprofit news outlet Wisconsin Watch supplied this report to The Related Press via a collaboration with Institute for Nonprofit News.


In the previous 4 years, at least 10 states have enacted legislation to make it a lot easier or quicker for residents to shield their previous marijuana convictions from public view, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The Wisconsin Policy Forum, a nonpartisan organization committed to researching and evaluating policy statewide, studied the many barriers people today in Wisconsin face in removing old convictions from their records. Its 2018 report outlines doable adjustments to expand access to Wisconsin’s expungement law, which permits folks to petition to have eligible convictions removed from the state’s no cost court records database, frequently referred to as CCAP.

Marijuana expungements could be specially essential for these who had been convicted decades ago, when 1st-time, even minor possession was typically charged as a felony, mentioned Kori Ashley, a employees lawyer for Legal Action of Wisconsin’s Road to Chance Project. Arrests for marijuana are the No. 1 drug offense in Wisconsin, state Division of Justice figures show, affecting practically 20,000 people today in 2018 alone.

“So, if it is retroactive,” Ashley mentioned, “it could potentially relieve folks of felony convictions.”

Information on the effect of record-sealing is challenging to come by, but in March, two University of Michigan law professors released a 1st-of-its-type empirical study, which discovered many positive aspects.

Michigan residents whose records had been sealed “have particularly low subsequent crime prices, comparing favorably to the common population,” the authors wrote. They also discovered a “sharp upturn in their wage and employment trajectories,” which they attributed mainly to “unemployed people today locating jobs and quite minimally employed people today locating steadier or greater-paying perform.”

Britt, who now holds a cosmetology license, opened Inspire Barber and Beauty Salon in 2017 but struggled to obtain a place for the organization. His rental applications for industrial spaces had been routinely denied.

“I haven’t been in difficulty for so lengthy,” mentioned Britt, whose final criminal conviction was in 2012, “but I’m nevertheless discriminated against.”

He discovered out point of view landlords had been searching up his criminal record.” It essentially came out in the finish like, ‘Well, mainly because of your record, you know what I imply, we really feel that … there’s gonna be drugs becoming sold in our location,’ ” Britt mentioned.

About an hour immediately after Britt arrived at the expungement clinic, he emerged from the area disappointed. The crimes he wanted wiped from his record, he mentioned, will keep.

1 of the lawyers advising clientele at the clinic, Sheila Sullivan of Legal Action of Wisconsin, mentioned existing Wisconsin law dictates that what can be expunged depends on the law at the time of the crime, the person’s age at the time of the crime and the form of conviction. “For the layperson to have to figure it out is challenging in itself,” Sullivan mentioned.

In February, Reps. David Steffen, R-Green Bay, and Evan Goyke, D-Milwaukee, introduced Assembly Bill 33 to clarify and broaden Wisconsin’s expungement law. The bill, which has passed the Assembly, would make additional than 80,000 situations eligible for expungement, according to the Wisconsin Policy Forum report.

“I cannot actually give you any numbers on precisely how several people today have convictions for marijuana and practically nothing else,” mentioned Joe Peterangelo, a senior researcher for the policy forum. “My educated guess primarily based on all of the info I’ve observed is that it would be a somewhat tiny pool of people today.”

Assisting people today who have completed their sentences wipe particular crimes from their records and decrease barriers to jobs, housing and other possibilities has bipartisan assistance in the Wisconsin Legislature.

According to a report by the Badger Institute, a Milwaukee-primarily based feel tank, below the existing law, about two,000 Wisconsin situations had been expunged every year among 2010 and 2017.

“Historically, it is been quite tough,” mentioned Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney, who recounted the story of a pal who has been attempting unsuccessfully for years to clear his record of a crime for which he was acquitted. “The only way you can get the expungement is to go back to the judge that heard the case and they let you to expunge the case, and it quite hardly ever happens. Really hardly ever.”

Wisconsin is 1 of only two states that typically do not permit expungements for situations in which the particular person is discovered not guilty or the charges are dismissed or reversed on appeal. In these situations, current state law adjustments demand these dismissed or overturned charges to be removed from the electronic court database immediately after two years.

Marijuana crimes had been amongst the most regularly expunged, the Badger Institute discovered. Of the practically 21,000 counts expunged among 2010 and 2017, practically 13% had been for marijuana — possession, manufacture or intent to sell. Possession of drug paraphernalia produced up an more four.six% of expunged counts.

AB33 would expand expungement eligibility by removing the age limit for defendants, enabling expungement choices to be produced at instances other than sentencing and clarify that workers require not disclose expunged arrests or convictions on job applications.

Ashley mentioned removing the age requirement would have substantial impacts. Quite a few people today who get in touch with her workplace looking for expungements are not eligible due to the existing age limits. Goyke hopes the bill will bring Wisconsin additional in line with other states.

“Our method is negative. Our expungement law — we’re an asterisk in America, and it is not ever been replicated. Nobody’s calling to copy our expungement process,” Goyke mentioned.

On the federal level, U.S. Reps. Lisa Blunt Rochester, D-Delaware, and Guy Reschenthaler, R-Pennsylvania, introduced legislation in late April that would automatically seal records of folks federally convicted of uncomplicated marijuana possession. The bipartisan Clean Slate Act’s intention is to address the barriers to employment, education and housing.

In Wisconsin, expunged situations would, even so, would nevertheless be viewable on the On-line Record Verify Technique, maintained by the Wisconsin Division of…