Crime Records Should Have Expiration Dates, Criminologists Say


A stunning number of young people are arrested for crimes, and those crimes can haunt them for the rest of their lives, criminologists Alfred Blumstein and Kiminori Nakamura write in the New York Times. An article in the journal Pediatrics says that by age 23, 30 percent of Americans have been arrested, compared with 22 percent in 1967. The ubiquity of criminal-background checks and the efficiency of information technology in maintaining those records and making them widely available, have meant that millions continue to pay a price long after the crime.

The risk of recidivism drops steadily with time, but there is still the question of how long is long enough. By looking at data for more than 88,000 people who had their first arrest in New York State in 1980, and tracking their subsequent criminal histories over the next 25 years, we estimate the “redemption time” — the time it takes for an individual's likelihood of being arrested to be close to that of individuals with no criminal records — to be about 10 to 13 years. A big problem is state and local rules that restrict employment or licensing for the rest of the individual's life in some occupations. We propose that the “forever rules” be replaced by rules that provide for the expiration of a criminal record.

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