How to let Wisconsin’s judges help job-seekers and employers.
The report includes two policy briefs:
- Problems with Wisconsin’s Expungement Law: How the Law is Used and How to Make It More Equitable and Effective
- Sentence Adjustment Petitions: Is this Truth-in-Sentencing Provision Really Working?
Call it a second chance — all across the country, states are approving expungement laws that allow ex-offenders to clean up their records.
In Wisconsin, an existing law allows for the expungement — basically, the sealing of the record — of minor criminal offenses for anyone who was under age 25 at the time of the offense if a judge finds that the offender will benefit and society will not be harmed.
There are numerous limitations: The maximum punishment for the crime cannot be more than six years, which eliminates the vast majority of felonies from consideration. No defendant, regardless of the charge, is eligible if he or she has a prior felony conviction. And unless a judge declares a defendant eligible at the time of sentencing, the offender’s record can never be expunged. Under current law, only if the judge makes the defendant eligible at that time — prior to serving the sentence — can the defendant be considered for expungement at a later date.
In order to help policy-makers understand how, when and where the expungement law is used in Wisconsin, WPRI partnered with researchers at Court Data Technologies in Madison to identify over 10,000 cases filed since Jan. 1, 2010, and later expunged, and then linked each of those back to original Wisconsin court documents identifying the county in which the crime was committed, the nature of the crime, the defendant’s race and his or her age at the time of the offense. Cases with multiple counts must be expunged fully or not at all. But in addition to looking at the number of cases expunged, the study looked at the number of counts — individual charges within a case — that were expunged.
The goal of the study was to determine how often cases are being expunged in Wisconsin, the types of cases most frequently expunged and whether expungement decisions vary by county, age or race.
Ultimately, we hope to help policy-makers determine whether Wisconsin’s expungement law should be altered and made more logical, equitable and effective in helping both low-level offenders find work and companies find employees.
We found that of the approximately 10,000 expunged cases examined, most were criminal misdemeanors or involved charges for which the defendant had been found not guilty. We also found significant differences in the prevalence of expungement by age, location and race.