Hakim Crampton is the statewide organizer for a national nonprofit organization, JustLeadershipUSA, that helps formerly incarcerated people find their voice and become strong advocates for criminal justice reform.
Monica Jahner was recently appointed by the governor to Michigan’s Jail and Pre-Trial Task Force, where she will help draft recommendations on how our state can make positive reforms. She also heads ARRO Advocacy in Lansing, a nonprofit that helps formerly incarcerated people re-integrate and is on Safe & Just Michigan’s board of directors.
Kevin Harris has served in the offices of two Michigan state representatives and has hopes of serving in public office himself.
These three people have more in common than ambitious careers. They are also all formerly incarcerated themselves. They know they beat the odds in finding good jobs after incarceration — two-thirds of people who leave prison struggle to find any work at all — but they’re working to change that. Hakim, Monica and Kevin all spoke at a Clean Slate Regional Convening in Lansing on Aug. 13 to explain why Michigan needs legislation that will help break down barriers between people who are formerly incarcerated and good jobs, safe housing and education and job training opportunities.
Criminal records continue to haunt people long after they’ve served out their sentences. The stigma of having a criminal record is used as a justification to deny people jobs, safe housing or enrollment into colleges or job training programs, severely hampering the ability of a formerly incarcerated person to re-integrate back into their communities.
“We have to work hard to open those doors,” Monica said. “I am so tired of being judged by my worst mistake, I don’t know what to do.”
New legislation that is likely to be introduced to the Michigan Legislature this fall would help. Clean Slate laws would expand who qualifies for the expungement of a criminal record and make the process of expungement automatic. Once a criminal record is expunged, it would be shielded from the view of public eyes such as employers and landlords, though police officers and court officials would still be able to access the records.
Upcoming Clean Slate Regional Convenings are giving people around the state an update on the Clean Slate legislation, explaining why these changes are so important and pointing to the next steps we can take to make the legislation a reality in Michigan. The next Clean Slate Regional Convenings will take place in Muskegon on Saturday, Aug. 17, from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. at Fresh Coast Alliance, 1128 Roberts St. (co-sponsored by Safe & Just Michigan, Nation Outside, ARRO Advocacy and Fresh Coast Alliance) and in Detroit on Tuesday, Aug. 27, from 5:30-9 p.m. at Body of Christ Church (The Kronk Gym), 9555 St. Mary’s St. (co-sponsored by Safe & Just Michigan and Detroit Justice Center).
Kevin Harris said that getting legislation at the state level is crucially important. He recognized that cities can enact their own local policies — Detroit, for instance, has instituted a “ban the box” policy preventing landlords from precluding people with a criminal record from applying for housing. But those municipal codes create a patchwork of rules that leave out too many people who are struggling.
“If we can move policy on the state level, all the cities have to fall in line,” Kevin said. “That’s why what we’re doing is extremely important.”
State Rep. Julie Brixie (D-Meridian Township) attended the meeting in Lansing and also spoke about the current environment for criminal justice reform at the state Capitol. Noting that the ability to secure good jobs and safe housing are correlated to increased safety, she said that it should be in everyone’s interest to see that formerly incarcerated people succeed.
“If rehabilitation is really our goal, we want people who were incarcerated to be able to get jobs.”
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The Clean Slate Regional Convenings are FREE, but please RSVP so that organizers can plan ahead to have enough materials and refreshments for everyone.