The granting of Certificates of Rehabilitation for people with criminal records, an idea advanced by Barack Obama as an Illinois state senator, has become an increasingly popular compromise version of full expungement in courts around the U.S., reports the Marshall Project. Between 2009 and 2014, nine states and Washington, D.C., began issuing the documents, also called certificates of relief, recovery, achievement, or employability. “These certificates are a remarkably dynamic new option,” says Kari Hamel, a legal aid attorney in North Carolina who is working to make the certificates more accessible. “It's a way of showing employers that the crime someone committed probably wasn't committed yesterday. It makes what has happened since the crime a fully official part of that person's record, for all employers to see.”
Paul Biebel, presiding judge of Chicago’s criminal court, agrees that the certificates are a promising new option. “Only over the last few years have we seen more of these coming through the court,” he says, “but I feel very strongly that they are an additional tool in a judge’s toolbox to evaluate people. We judges are prepared to send people to prison. But now, if the evidence proves rehabilitation, we also have a tool for redeeming people.” New York University law Prof. James Jacobs, author of “The Eternal Criminal Record,” says that even if expungement were more available, it would be a “fraud” in the age of the Internet. “Expungement is not amnesia,” he says. “The information remains out there on the Internet. These private background check companies have no incentive to remove expunged or out-of-date information.” Background checks on job applicants are frequently inaccurate even without expungement, he said.