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Last week Michigan governor Rick Snyder signed a bill that made it easier for people to leave their teen indiscretions behind. The new state law allows those with juvenile records to clear up to three misdemeanors from their rap sheets per year. Under the previous law, individuals could only erase one misdemeanor per year, and the conviction had to be at least five years old. Clearing criminal records makes it easier to find employment and housing.
The bill was first introduced by State representative Joe Haveman in late December and went into effect in 2013. Both the Michigan Senate and House of Representatives voted unanimously in favor of the bill. Youth Radio’s Sayre Quevedo spoke to Representative Joe Haveman about what the new law means for Michigan and its the evolving juvenile justice system.
YR: Why introduce this bill now?
JH: We were getting toward middle or the end of the term and I realized that I had been talking about juvenile justice and talking about reforming corrections but we didn’t have a single bill passed to hang our hat on, to say that we got anything done. I said, ‘Hey, we need to get this bill in the hopper. We need to move it forward’. Initially people thought we didn’t have a prayer of getting it through. But it passed both the House and Senate unanimously.
YR: What’s your reasoning behind why the vote came out the way it did?
JH: Attitudes have changed towards corrections in general, and I think especially toward juvenile justice. Because with juveniles the return on investment is so much greater. If we can correct behavior and keep young people out of the system, allow them to mature and grow up without that record hanging over their head we have so much more return on investment than if we’re doing it with adults.
I think people are a little more sympathetic with young people who have had indiscretions in their youth because I think we can all relate to it. We can all remember the days when we did something just down-right stupid in our youth, and we’ve grown out of it, we’ve grown up and become mature adults who are hopefully contributing to society. So, I think with juveniles we all put ourselves in that place.
YR: You’re conservative, not the most likely person to be touting juvenile justice reforms that could be seen as “soft” on offenders….
JH: I come from the most conservative county in Michigan,and in two years of debating this I have not had one criticism that has said I’m on the wrong side of this issue. I think not only have attitudes changed, but politics have changed. The old way of thinking, the conservative right-wing way of seeing things as be tough on crime, longer sentences, more sentencing, I think that has changed.
I came into this knowing that… the way we had done things in the past generation simply hadn’t worked because we’re locking up more people. We’re giving people more records and yet we don’t feel any safer in the streets. Locking people up hasn’t helped our crime rate drop. We need to figure out what’s causing crime, not just trying to fix it after somebody has committed one.