Expunging the ‘Scarlet Letter’ of Arrest, Conviction Records

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Photo by Eric Lin via Flickr

Photo by Eric Lin via Flickr

Photo by Eric Lin via Flickr

Jurisdictions should consider expanding the types of criminal record information that are eligible for expungement, and provide incentives to stop discrimination based on criminal records, argues a paper published by the Harvard Law and Policy Review.

Although several states have enacted laws to expand “the range of expungement remedies” available to people with criminal records, the laws have not provided sufficient relief for people who face discrimination, writes Brian M. Murray, Abraham Freedman Fellow at Temple University’s Beasley School of Law in a paper entitled “A New Era for Expungement Law Reform? Recent Developments at the State and Federal Levels.”

An estimated 25-30 percent of the adult population of Americans have criminal records—a “staggering” number which continues to increase, as the FBI adds some 10,000 names to its database every day, the study says.

That makes it a priority to address the barriers faced by individuals with criminal records, which include difficultly finding employment or enrolling in educational programs, the author writes. They may also be disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits, cash assistance and medical benefits.

“Perhaps the best way to limit the effect of criminal record history information is to prevent its systematic creation in the first place, even after an individual encounters the system,” Murray writes. “Arrest and conviction records attach scarlet letters to individuals.”


3 thoughts on “Expunging the ‘Scarlet Letter’ of Arrest, Conviction Records

  1. Expunging the records for many convicted and charged but never convicted people is a good talking point, but in reality, how long is it going to be before such an action sees the light of day. With the Clinton administration’s tough on crime initiative that landed many people in prison simply because they couldn’t afford competent and adequate, it has also stigmatized everyone of those people for life.

    For starters, why should someone who has never had even so much as a traffic ticket, get convicted for a felony, then serve his prison sentence and if paroled, successfully complete their parole, only to be branded as a felon the rest of their life in spite of never committing another offense of any kind. To say that the tough on crime initiative has been an abject failure on many levels is putting it mildly. To be labeled as a convicted felon the rest of their life serves no purpose to society other than to make those who like to pat themselves on the back for making sure that person never forgets what they allegedly (in a lot of cases) did, even though they served their time.

    Many of these people could and would be productive members of society if given only half a chance, but the mentality in this nation is to brand them as felons, thereby stigmatizing them for life. Denied access to jobs, housing, healthcare, welfare when needed, shunned by society in general, and then people wonder what makes so many of them go out and commit another crime, when in many times, they are trying to survive.

    Having been in law enforcement, I am sadly disappointed in the state of our judicial system in the US. I can honestly say that I am sorely disappointed that our justice system is broken and in bad need of an overhaul. In the meantime, we go our merry way filling up prisons with people who shouldn’t have been in there in the first place, and scar them for life, then wring our collective hands and wonder why so many of them wind up back in prison.

    • Nicely said. I am a woman who for 40 years made incredible choices in my life. I raised 3 amazing great kids, all in college now. They have grown to be honest, good young adults. I have taken care of my entire family my whole life, only thinking of others. I made an extremely bad choice due to my need to “prove” myself to others especially my father. I committed mortgage fraud to keep my business afloat because I couldn’t handle the stress and pressure of closing a business that my mother, father, husband, 2 brothers and friends all worked for. So in a span of 1 month I made horrible choices which lead to me being a convicted felon. I took responsibility, full accountability and was forthcoming by pleading guilty. I did my time and pay restitution every month without fail. I would never repeat those choices. I put my family through turmoil and will live with that guilt my entire life. I’m now home, I have my MSW and a MBA and I can’t find a job. I’m branded with a scarlet “F”. I’m a good person, who made one bad choice my entire life. A choice that I regret. It appears to me that this country doesn’t give 2nd chances. I got denied even being an Uber Driver. It makes me feel worthless. All those years of making good choices and I destroyed my life by one bad choice. There is no room in this country for people to make mistakes. I only wish employers could see what a hard working asset I would be to them. All they see is the “F”.

  2. This was a very interesting article. I believe we as a nation have forgot what we stand for all together. Our country’s attitude now is, Throw them away for doing crimes. As my professor said we have all done something worth going to jail or even prison. We are just the luck people not to get caught . Are criminal Justice system struggles to handle to what is to cruel and what is to nice. I believe that we should look back and determine what is right for handling petty laws, because our system is going down hill. LT003

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