America has a rap sheet, says the Wall Street Journal. There have been more than a quarter of a billion arrests in the last 20 years, meaning that the FBI has 77.7 million people in its data base, nearly one of every three U.S. adults. Between 10,000 and 12,000 new names are added daily. It is easy for anyone to pull up arrest records in an instant. Employers, banks, college admissions officers and landlords routinely check records.
Many people who have had charged dropped find that a lingering arrest record can ruin their chance to get jobs, loans, and housing. Even in cases of mistaken arrests, damaging documents aren’t removed automatically. Only half of the records with the FBI have fully up-to-date information. “There is a myth that if you are arrested and cleared that it has no impact,” says Georgetown University law Prof. Paul Butler. “It’s not like the arrest never happened.”