The “Eternal Criminal Record”


Does intensive criminal record-keeping help public safety–or hinder it? In a forthcoming article in the Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law, Kevin Lapp summarizes and critiques The Eternal Criminal Record, a recent book which argues that detailed criminal justice record-keeping undermines the chances that ex-offenders will successfully reintegrate into society. The book, by James B. Jacobs, shows how the current record-keeping system in the U.S. “presents a public-policy conundrum for American criminal justice: The more information we collect and share about suspected criminals and actual offenders, the easier it is to identify and discriminate against those marked individuals,” says Lapp, an associate professor of law at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles—thereby increasing the risks of recidivism.

In his analysis of the book, Lapp writes that Jacobs has shown that criminal record-keeping in the United States is “exceptionally public, exceptionally punitive, and exceptionally permanent.” The reforms proposed by Jacobs include improving the accuracy of record-keeping, limiting the availability of arrest records outside of law enforcement and reducing employment discrimination against formerly incarcerated individuals. But, notes Lapp, such reforms may not go far enough.

For example, Lapp suggests it is worthwhile exploring whether the limitations observed by law enforcement in the collection, storage and sharing of data on juveniles could be applied to all criminal records.

You can find a link to Lapp’s paper here.

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