Erasing criminal records

Chris Powell asserts in his column “Erasing Connecticut’s criminal records will mock many victims” that erasing criminal records will bring more harm than good and should be seen as a left-wing agenda item. This displays a critical misunderstanding of the facts and their application to conservative principles.

Powell begins his piece by stating that a criminal record has little impact on one’s ability to find work; rather, their employment difficulties can be attributed mainly to a skills or educational deficit. No doubt, many with a criminal record would likely see their employment outcomes improve if they received additional training and education (something also hampered by a record). But research has shown time and time again that even when individuals do have a similar resume, those with a criminal record are less likely to get a job.

In contrast, when individuals receive an expungement, their employment outcomes improve. Research on the impact of Michigan’s expungement policy found that among those whose records were expunged wages increased, on average, by 25 percent within two years. Those previously unemployed were now able to find jobs, and those with low-paying work were able to earn a higher income.

Powell also mistakenly implies that criminal records are necessary proxies for measuring a person’s character and risk to public safety. Research demonstrates that, depending on the crime, individuals who have been arrested or convicted, within a few to several years, pose a similar risk to public safety as those in the general population. Indeed, in the Michigan study, people granted an expungement had comparable arrest rates to those in the general population. Record clearance, done right, won’t endanger the public.

However, as a lifelong conservative and Republican, I am all the more dismayed by what Powell doesn’t mention in his assessment of record clearance. Namely, that by erasing criminal records after a substantial waiting period during which people have proven their ability to live crime-free, policymakers are promoting the conservative creed of limited, effective government. But by keeping criminal records past the time it’s helpful for public safety, we promote government overreach.