November 2020: A Moment In Time

December 2, 2020

A Moment In Time

 

This fall marks two key milestones on LIFT Dane‘s journey towards becoming LIFT Wisconsin. Our efforts significantly advanced recently when we launched our web-based app. The app is unique because it allows Wisconsin residents the ability to access publicly available data to identify legal issues that they might not even be aware of, and automates the resolution of those issues on their own, or with help from trusted professionals.

 

So what does that really mean? It means that we have taken the first step to change the legal landscape for thousands of Wisconsin residents. Initially, the app will allow people to search CCAP (Circuit Court Automated Programs) to find eviction and criminal records that are eligible to be removed. To be clear, the Office of Court Operations and CCAP are already engaged in an effort to administratively clear those types of records. LIFT Dane’s app complements these efforts by notifying people of upcoming eligibility and catching cases missed through the automated process. The app also demonstrates the ease with which records can be cleared that should not be impacting people’s ability to get jobs, housing, and increase their earning potential in the first place. In fact, as I write this, our tech partner, Theory and Principle, is working to scrape criminal records from WORCS (Wisconsin Online Record Check System) an online system designed for individuals or organizations to submit criminal background checks and retrieve results. WORCS is most often used by landlords and employers to screen out potential applicants. Soon, those individuals will be able to easily access those same records to remove barriers to better employment, housing, and health.  This is a game changer for individuals and our communities.

 

In an article recently published by the Harvard Law Review, Expungement Of Criminal Convictions: An Empirical Study, the authors report on a comprehensive statewide study of expungement recipients in Michigan. They found that expungement recipients experience considerable economic gains shortly after their records are cleared. Within one year, on average, an individual’s odds of being employed (earning any wages at all) increased by a factor of 1.13; their odds of earning at least $100/week (a slightly more demanding employment measure) increased by a factor of 1.23; and their reported quarterly wages increased by a factor of 1.23 (and were sustained in subsequent years). J.J. Prescott & Sonja B. Starr, , Expungement Of Criminal Convictions: An Empirical Study, 133 Harvard L. Rev.  2460,2523-43 (2020).  

 

This research is groundbreaking for many reasons: 1) it is one of the first empirical studies of such a broad scope; 2) the researchers entered into a data-sharing agreement with multiple Michigan state agencies, which allowed them to develop a large-scale merged and de-identified data set; and, 3) important to LIFT, the researchers found that when expungement is not automatic (i.e., administrative), and takes time, effort, and even money to apply, only a very small share of the people eligible for relief actually applied for and receive an expungement. Id.at 2486–2510.

 

This is where we come in. If LIFT can find those records eligible for removal, assist the app’s user to complete the necessary paperwork, and facilitate its submission to the Dept. of Justice, many more people can more easily apply and get their records cleared up. When we couple the app with the trusted helpers in our community (social service agencies, medical clinics, libraries, legal clinics and others) we can not only educate the community about the app’s availability and provide the tool, but also offer the technical and legal assistance to successfully complete the process. A win-win for everyone.

 

We hope that studies like the Michigan study reported in the Harvard Law Review, as well as clean slate laws (laws that allow criminal conviction records to be wholly expunged or sealed from public view) that are becoming more common across the country, become a reality in Wisconsin. Meanwhile, LIFT is taking concrete, achievable steps to make clearing these types of records possible across our state. We have tremendous support from the Wisconsin Partnership Project, who is providing a Community Impact Grant which will allow us to take the next steps to become LIFT Wisconsin over the next five years, and the CUNA Mutual Foundation, with a grant of $171,000 to fully build out our driver’s license module. Additional support comes from the Alliant Energy Foundation, with its grant to kick-start our driver’s license reinstatement fund. We are so proud of the demonstrated support by our community partners. On behalf of our growing initiative, I invite you to join our effort.

 

Marsha Mansfield, JD

Director LIFT Dane

 

If you have any questions, suggestions, or thoughts, please feel free to contact me at mmansfield@liftdane.org or (608) 698-3733. Thank you for your interest and your support.