As America’s focus turns from Ferguson, Missouri, the average citizen’s dealings with the criminal justice system continues to be a hot button issue, and record expungement is being seen as a civil rights issue. For the people who enter the court system, their lives after may be made difficult due to their criminal record. Now, activists are looking for a way to help non-violent offenders, including those with drug arrests, clear their records and move on with their lives.
This summer saw the proposal and implementation of laws designed to protect former offenders who have turned their lives around from their criminal records. Earlier this summer, Senators Rand Paul and Cory Booker, a Republican from Kentucky and a Democrat from New Jersey respectively, joined together to submit the REDEEM Act to Congress. REDEEM stands for Record Expungement Designed to Enhance Employment, and is meant for non-violent and drug offenders looking for employment. Also coming from New Jersey is a “ban the box” statute, making it illegal for employers to ask about a potential employee’s criminal activities until after they have conducted an in-person interview. Finally, judges in Oklahoma have passed down a judgement making expungement proceedings in that state closed to the public. These are all seen as steps taken to protect low-level, non-violent, drug-related offenders – offenders who are often people of color.
In different studies, the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the National Institute of Justice researched the recidivism rates and the the effects of criminal records on the job hunt. The Bureau of Justice Statistics test was conducted between 2005 and 2010, and studied offenders from 30 different states released in 2005. The recidivism rate for drug offenders was anywhere between 50.4 percent to close to 61 percent. This ties in to the National Institute of Justice’s studies, which looks at how former offenders reenter the work force.
In three different studies, the National Institute of Justice looked at the way that criminal records affected people looking for work. In one of their studies, it was found that the chances for a call back for a job interview was lowered by nearly 50 percent if the applicant was found to have a criminal record. This amount was lowered substantially if the applicant was also black. Bolstering New Jersey’s decision to “ban the box” was the finding that if an interviewer spoke to an applicant, the likelihood of them receiving a job was raised. In a related study, researchers found that black men were almost four times as likely to be rearrested than white offenders, which makes having a job all the more important, because employment has been shown to combat recidivism.
These statistics give many civil rights activists pause. Record expungement can mean the difference between staying with a family and going back to prison. All over the country, these advocates are working to help former criminals clear their records and find work. In Greensboro, North Carolina, volunteers help ex-offenders with expungement paperwork. In Oklahoma, expungment records are closed, so employers cannot even receive a record that expungement has taken place. However, over 80 percent of employers continue to search criminal records prior to job interviews, making it hard for ex-offenders in America to find work.
By Bryan Levy