WHY WE NEED EXPUNGEMENT CLINICS
By Claudia Salgado
The United States has been known for its many accomplishments such as its economic influence among other countries as well as strong political relationships with many countries. However, as powerful and influential the U.S. might be perceived, its citizens have experienced and continue to encounter social injustices that are deeply rooted. One of the greatest challenges our country faces is the high level of incarceration due to the strict legislative policies. These policies continue to reinforce and perpetuate civil legal barriers that programs such as LIFT Wisconsin attempt to overcome.
Being the intern for the summer of 2022 in the LIFT Program has allowed me to learn a significant amount of knowledge behind the history of the systematic discrimination that legislation furthers. I first became curious about LIFT as a result of my interest in the legal and political environment in our country. My double major in Legal Studies and Sociology in UW Madison has allowed me to learn more about our political climate. I have realized how social work and legal policies influence each other. Through assisting in the expungement clinic, I saw the positive impact that social work can have on a community. Also, learning about the LIFT team allowed me to gain more insight into the specific roles each individual had on the program. My experience has been unforgettable as it has taught me the most valuable lesson- the right of justice and freedom for everyone. I realized that one of the significant changes has come from the expungement clinics.
One of LIFT’s projects to overcome legal barriers has been expungement clinics in which I participated. I was very curious about the motive behind these clinics because of my personal interest in social injustices, such as criminal rates that disproportionately affect races/ethnicities in our nation.
The article “The Case for Expunging Criminal Records” in the New York Times (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/20/opinion/expunge-criminal-records.html), discusses the interest that employers, landlords and others have in the criminal records of those they interact with. In a Michigan study discussed in the article, it was found that that within a year after expungement, wages went up by more than 20 percent. This gain is mostly driven by unemployed people finding work and minimally employed people finding steadier positions.” Having any kind of criminal record can heavily influence someone’s standard of living, from owning a home and rent/payment, to not getting a job if someone has a criminal record.
Often the requirements to get a record expunged are too restrictive, which limits the number of people that can benefit from expungement. If more expungement clinics were supported, other regions in the country could follow Michigan’s example. However, the New York Times article noted that even among those who do qualify for expungement in the Michigan study, only 6.5 percent received expungements within five years of becoming eligible”. It is essential that more people are aware of the expungement process so more people can gain the benefits of having their records expungement.
“We believe that everyone deserves access to legal help” introduce LIFT’s Legal Tune Up website. The Legal Tune Up was created to give greater resources to help people with driver’s license or criminal records issues. The Legal Tune Up also helps individuals, who have criminal records, obtain, or improve employment or housing opportunities. From my experience, being able to see three expungement clinics, it was inspiring to see the amount of work the program put in and see the outstanding outcomes that can be achieved. Going from not being very familiar with the process of expungement, to seeing first-hand the benefits that came with expungement and driver’s license help. I have seen the impact that the LIFT clinics can provide to better the circumstances of individuals as well as their communities.