"Project Clean Slate" Helping Detroit Residents Expunge Their Criminal Records

Detroit residents are taking advantage of a city-sponsored program that helps them expunge their criminal records. Residents are hoping the clean records will provide access to new job opportunities, housing needs, and state certifications for occupations that require state licensing.

Many residents are hoping to have their records expunged in order to nab one of the 5,000 positions that will be available at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ new assembly plant. The City of Detroit’s Law Department has requested that lawyers assist residents through the expungement process, including court hearings--free of charge.

The city’s Project Clean Slate is helping residents remove their old criminal offenses off their records, The Detroit News reported. Detroit’s Law Department has worked for the last three years to help residents get their records expunged.

In order to qualify for expungement, Detroiters must meet several requirements. They cannot have more than one felony or no more than two misdemeanors, and it must be at least five years since their last conviction, release from incarceration, or discharge from probation or parole.

The initiative does not help residents remove traffic offenses from their records. Individuals with assault-type offenses or those with offenses that could result in a life sentence are also not eligible.

Michigan has had its expungement law since 1965 and is one of 36 states to have expungement laws. According to The Detroit News, the law was amended in 2011 and in 2014, but some state lawmakers want the law to allow individuals to have more than one felony conviction expunged.

Expungement does not eliminate a person’s past criminal convictions, instead the court-ordered process seals arrest and conviction records. After an arrest or conviction is expunged, it does not need to be disclosed to potential employers or landlords, according to NOLO.

Several residents have spoken up about the limits that their past convictions have placed on their employment opportunities. Kyona McGhee, an attorney for Project Clean Slate, told The Detroit News that expungements help residents achieve better job opportunities and “overall better life experiences.”

“Having a criminal record limits them not only with employment, with professional licenses, with so many different other areas in their life,” McGhee said.

A woman named LaTonya, whose last name was not revealed, told WDET in 2018 that a 2001 welfare fraud felony caused her to lose her nursing license. “I’ve been a nurse for over 25 years but I haven’t been practicing for the last 10 years because of that,” she said. “That was the only thing in my life that I’ve ever done, and it affected my entire life.”

LaTonya was waiting to appear before a judge to have her record officially expunged. “The sky is the limit. There’s nothing stopping me anymore,” she told WDET. She said she was back in school to get her Physician’s [Assistant] license. “There’s nothing holding me back. Nothing at all. So as far as I want to go, I’m flying high.”

Ted Kelly, a 66-year-old computer machine operator at General Motors Company, recently had his 1982 concealed weapon offense expunged by Wayne County Circuit Judge James R. Chylinski, The Detroit News reported. Kelly, who also has a 1975 misdemeanor conviction for reckless use of a firearm, is hoping to go to school to become a registered nurse and needs a clean record to get certified.

“It’s a very good program,” Kelly told the newspaper. “I tried for years (to get an expungement). The time finally came.”

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan acknowledged the barrier to employment prior criminal records can have during a press conference in June 2018. “With Detroit’s economy growing, we want every resident who wants to work to have that opportunity,” he said, according to The Detroit Metro Times. “Project Clean Slate was created to help eligible people through the expungement process and get connected with potential employment opportunities.”

Project Clean Slate has achieved 239 expungements since 2018, according to Chioke Mose-Telesford, deputy director of workforce development for the City of Detroit. Mose-Telesford told The Detroit News that 53 people are waiting for court hearings and another 151 people have applied for expungements and are awaiting court or client documents.

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.