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January 9, 2013

Bill would allow records to be expunged

Convicts would have to prove redemption.

Indianapolis — Republican State Rep. Jud McMillin calls himself a “do-the-crime, do-the-time kind of guy” but says it’s time for Indiana to build some more forgiveness into the criminal justice system.

McMillin, a former deputy prosecutor from Brookville, plans on filing a bill soon that would allow judges to expunge an old arrest or conviction from someone’s record if that person could show they’ve redeemed themselves.

The goal is to make it easier for people who committed a non-violent crime in the long ago past to erase their criminal history and have a better shot at getting a job or accessing other opportunities often denied to people with a record.

McMillin said his legislation fits with Indiana’s constitutional call for a criminal justice system that is built on “restorative justice.”

“I’m a do-the-time, do-the-crime’ kind of guy,” McMillin said. “But I also believe that after your debt to society is paid, and if you can demonstrate that you have reformed yourself and that you’re trying to be a positive, contributing member to society, that we should give you that opportunity.”

Indiana currently has a criminal records “sealing” law that allows people with long ago, low-level arrests or convictions to get a court order to shield that record from public view.

McMillin’s bill would go farther: It would create a mechanism that doesn’t currently exist in Indiana by giving judges the authority to remove an arrest or conviction from a criminal record.  

While the sealing bill applies to certain misdemeanors and Class D felonies, McMillin’s bill would allow judges to expunge some Class B and Class C felonies from the records.

There are conditions on who would be eligible. There would be a waiting period of at least five years after a sentence is completed; violent crimes and sex crimes couldn’t be expunged; and the person seeking the expungement would have to show they’d stayed out of trouble.

At least 26 states already allow some felonies to be expunged.

Lahny Silva, who teaches at Indiana University’s law school in Indianapolis, has done extensive research on expungement of criminal records. She found it reduces the odds that a person will commit another  crime.

“What ends up cutting the recidivism rate is the employment factor,” Silva said. “The whole point of it is to make it easier to get a job, so you can go to work and you’re not a financial burden on the state.”

Silva said people arrested or convicted of felony crimes carry a “double penalty” because employers are resistant to hiring someone with a record – no matter what the circumstances were.

“And we’re paying for it as taxpayers,” Silva said. “It becomes a vicious cycle for people who can’t find a job because they have a record, then return to crime because they can’t see another option.”  

Legislative efforts to allow for expungement have failed in the past, but McMillin thinks the current Republican-controlled General Assembly may be more open to the idea this session.

“People make mistakes and if they can show they’ve reformed themselves and are ready to contribute to society, I think we’re ready to let them do that,” McMillin said.

One issue that won’t be easily resolved is what to do with criminal information on the Internet. McMillin’s bill would require companies that do employment background screenings to update their records, but can’t force the removal of information in digital archives that can publicly accessed over the Internet.

But McMillin said having a court order that shows a criminal record has been expunged may be helpful to someone seeking a job because that court order can be shown to a potential employer.

“At least it gives someone an argument to say to that employer, ‘I paid my debt to society and shown the state of Indiana that I’ve reformed myself,” McMillin said.

Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers. She can be reached at maureen.hayden@indianamediagroup.com.

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