NIJ Finds Expungement of Criminal Records Provides Significant Benefits for Reentry

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NIJ Finds Expungement of Criminal Records Provides Significant Benefits for Reentry
November 7, 2022

The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) has released an article detailing the benefits of expungement to the lives and employment potential of ex-offenders. The article, titled “Expungement: Criminal Records as Reentry Barriers,” explains how criminal records can limit the ability of those reentering society after serving their sentence to find employment, housing, and other living prospects creating a heightened risk of reoffending.

According to the NIJ, an individual’s criminal record is an often overlooked factor that can hamper successful reentry. Furthermore, the Director of the NIJ, Nancy La Vigne, made a statement on the matter. She stressed that, for individuals struggling to return to society, expunging criminal records where appropriate can be critical to their ability to move forward.

The expungement of criminal records can allow ex-offenders a second chance and open doors to many opportunities. However, the NIJ warned that many face barriers to acquiring expungements, even when the law permits it. According to the NIJ, these barriers include:

  • “Unequal access to justice among those eligible to have their records cleared.
  • The posting of individual criminal record information on public and often monetized websites.
  • The fact is that significant amounts of publicly accessible criminal record data are inaccurate, incomplete, and inconsistently maintained.
  • Debates about the ultimate value to government and society of erasing accurate crime information from the public record and memory.”

To better understand how these barriers affect reentry efforts, the NIJ has supported multiple recent studies focused on reentry and recidivism. The NIJ learned more about the legal representation of expungement efforts from these studies. In addition, the NIJ gathered information on the permanency and accuracy of criminal records.

The NIJ’s research revealed that access to legal help in expunging criminal records supports far better outcomes than those attempting to go through the process alone. Furthermore, 90% of those with access to legal assistance successfully expunged their records. In comparison, only 13% of self-help groups cleared their records.

The NIJ found that the accuracy of many records available from public records and sold by “largely unregulated” third-party websites contain “old, outdated, or misleading” information. Mismatches of names, birthdates, and someone’s record can result in a considerable mess.

However, the researchers also found that providing accurate and factual information is crucial. According to the researchers, this points to the need for record clearing that protects individuals from outdated and inaccurate information while ensuring public, court, and law enforcement access to meaningful information.

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