Ypsilanti City Council voted unanimously to authorize a grant of $25,000 from marijuana equity funds to support the Washtenaw County prosecutor’s expungement program on Nov. 16.
The resolution was proposed to promote social equity in impacted communities by urging for more advocacy on criminal justice issues regarding marijuana prohibition after the expansion of Michigan’s expungement laws in April 2021.
Expungement is the process by which criminal records are wiped from public records. A criminal record can prevent one from having access to housing, jobs, public benefits, and educational opportunities.
Washtenaw Prosecuting Attorney Eli Savit is a vocal supporter of expungement.
“To be eligible for expungement under Michigan law, you have to have done everything right ... and at some point we shouldn’t be continually punishing people who have made one mistake in the past with a lifetime of stigma,” Savit said. “Beyond that, expunging people’s old public records actually benefits public safety because again, the best thing that we can do is to make sure that they have access to a stable job, housing, and educational opportunities, and that’s the door expungement opens for so many folks.”
Under Michigan’s new law, an inmate can expunge up to three felonies and an unlimited number of misdemeanors, including marijuana-based convictions.
“There are certain crimes, largely crimes that are very serious punishable by life in prison that are not eligible for expungement, but, by and large, most offenses are eligible provided that you have stayed out of trouble for a number of years for most offenses,“ Savit said. "For marijuana offenses, there is no waiting period to apply. Those can get expunged right away."
However, there are costs associated with expungement. According to the Michigan expungement laws, those applying for expungement must pay $50 for Michigan State Police to run a full background check. Savit said that Washtenaw County offers free expungement services.
“In Washtenaw County, because of the partnerships that we have here, we are able to offer expungement-related services absolutely free of charge," Savit said. "Anybody in Washtenaw County with a Washtenaw County conviction can reach out and get that process started for free by emailing email@example.com. The $25,000 that the Ypsilanti City Council voted to dedicate towards this effort will help ensure that this remains free.”
Ypsilanti City Councilperson Anthony Morgan said that other cities in Washtenaw County should support a similar grant program.
“I would urge the county prosecuting office to urge all the other cities in Washtenaw County that promote marijuana to do the same thing and find ways to make this expungement program more practical,“ Morgan said. "Since it’s something that’s helping section 48197 and 48198, the people that are most marginalized in the county, that the other parts of the county that double up on marijuana should do the same thing.”
For any questions regarding how the expungement process works, visit the Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office website at https://www.washtenaw.org/3364/Expungements.