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Beyond the eternal criminal record: Public support for expungement

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Criminology & Public Policy

Published online on


["\n\nResearch Summary\nIn The Eternal Criminal Record, James Jacobs detailed how it has become increasingly difficult to escape the mark of a criminal record. One way to “wipe the slate clean” is through the official expungement of criminal records. We assess public views toward this policy using a national sample of American adults (N = 1,000). Public support for expungement is high for persons convicted of property and substance‐related offenses, who stay crime free for 7–10 years, and who “signal” their reform through stable employment and completion of a rehabilitation program. Members of the public are also concerned about unfettered public access to criminal records and want to ensure that any available criminal record information is accurate. The strongest predictor of support for expungement is a belief in redeemability.\n\n\nPolicy Implications\nThere is a growing movement in the United States that seeks to curtail the effects of criminal records through their expungement. In recent years, most states have enacted bills creating, expanding, or streamlining criminal record relief. Public opinion is important in this context, because it can motivate or constrain reform efforts. Our findings show that, when the risk to public safety appears low, the American public favors providing second chances by using expungement to wipe clean the record of a criminal offense committed years previously. Further, knowledge about the public's belief in redeemability may be key to understanding and promoting reform efforts that seek to reintigrate offenders back into society.\n\n", "Criminology & Public Policy, EarlyView. "]