More than 1,500 Texas offenders who had their records sealed from public view were charged with new crimes in the past two years, reports the Dallas Morning News. About 10 percent of their 2,300 alleged new offenses were violent, including a handful of killings and sexual assaults. “Wow, that’s a pretty high level of recidivism for a category that the legislature was claiming were rehabilitated and not a danger to society anymore,” said Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley. “I’m surprised that there are so many violent crimes.”
The statistics, obtained by The Dallas Morning News under state public-information law, offer the first glimpse of behavior in the “free world” by 14,000 people who invoked a 2003 law to have their records sealed. It also raises tricky questions about whether society, wielding an eraser or a court seal, can help give first-time offenders a fresh start without impeding law enforcement and perhaps creating safety risks. Some experts caution against reading too much into the statistics, which don’t track convictions on the new offenses. Austin defense lawyer Keith Hampton called the law a roaring success. Few other criminal rehabilitation efforts see a huge majority of offenders avoiding rearrest in the first year or two after they’re freed, he said. Angie Klein, manager of the state criminal history processing bureau, said her study didn’t track convictions and acquittals on new charges. Nor did it look at recidivism in the first three years the law was in effect, so saying just 10 percent or 11 percent reoffended “would not be correct,” she said.