It won’t come as any surprise that expunging a criminal record benefits the person whose record is cleared. It’s also not much of a stretch to see how that step is beneficial to that person’s family. After all, eliminating the barriers created by a criminal record can mean:
- Better employment opportunities
- Higher wages
- Better access to housing
- Removing barriers to full engagement in family life
- An end to the social stigma and anxiety that comes with a criminal record
While this list includes some of the most common benefits of expunging a criminal record or reducing felonies to misdemeanors, it is important to note that there are other negative effects of a criminal conviction. These effects vary depending on the nature of the charge and whether the conviction is a felony or a misdemeanor, among other factors. The National Inventory of Collateral Consequences of Conviction (NICCC) lists more than 1,000 possible collateral consequences of Oregon criminal convictions.
Opponents of expungement opportunities like those offered in Oregon suggest that the benefit to the convicted person comes at a cost to society. But, the data does not support that conclusion. In fact, wider availability and use of the expungement process can have a positive impact for all of society.
Community Benefits of Expungement
A 2020 research report from the Brennan Center for Justice revealed that those who have been convicted of felonies but never incarcerated experienced, on average, a 22% decline in annual income. Those with misdemeanor convictions who never went to jail lost about 16% in annual earnings. These two groups together lose up to an estimated $317 billion in earnings each year–and that’s not even taking into account those who spent time in prison.
That impact can be reversed, or at least significantly mitigated. One small study found that people whose records had been expunged saw an average increase in annual income of more than $6,000. Obviously, increased income is beneficial to the person and their family. But, these researchers and others have looked beyond the immediate benefits to the person and looked at the larger impact, to the government and the community.
Some key research findings include:
- Those whose earnings increased after expungement paid an average of an additional $750 in income taxes per year,
- Lower employment rates of previously incarcerated men reduce the U.S. GDP by an estimated $57 billion or more per year, and
- The increased employment and higher wages correlated with expungement reduce the burden on the state by reducing dependence on public benefits
This list doesn’t take into account the obvious benefit to local economies when individuals and families have increased disposable income to spend on consumer goods and services.
Better employment and better pay is good for the worker and the economy, but what about the employer? Many employers say they wouldn’t knowingly hire someone with a criminal record. But, the data says those employers are wrong about past criminal convictions, and they may be passing up good employees for no reason. After a few years have passed, recidivism rates drop significantly. A study involving both a literature review and data analysis reported that:
- The risk of re-offending after being released from prison peaked before the 10-month mark.
- The percentage of released prisoners who re-offended dropped by 50% between the 10 and 20 months after release, and it was cut in half again 40 months after release.
- A data analysis showed that by age 24, the likelihood that someone who had a criminal
history at age 18 committing a new crime dropped dramatically and was very close to the risk that someone with no previous criminal history had.
In Oregon, the most serious misdemeanors qualify for expungement after three years of clean criminal history. Class C felonies may be eligible after five years, and certain non-violent Class B felonies are eligible after seven years. That means that by the time expungement is an option, the predictive value of that past conviction has diminished considerably, or disappeared altogether.
Predictive Models Recognize that Old Data is Not Useful
Researchers noted that the ability of non-criminal past-behavior to predict current and future performance is time limited. For example, federal law requires that most items be removed from your credit report after seven years. Automobile insurance carriers typically look at your driving record over the past three years in calculating premium rates. But, in many circumstances, employers may consider criminal convictions indefinitely. Some professions exclude people who have ever been convicted of certain types of crimes, even if decades have passed.
In short, employers may be factoring in criminal convictions long after they have any predictive value. Oregon has a “ban the box” law that prevents employers asking about criminal history in the application process, but it does not stop them from considering criminal history at later stages of the employment screening process.
The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) applies to more than your credit report. Third-party companies that prepare criminal background check reports for employers must purge old entries, just like credit reporting agencies. Arrests must be deleted after seven years. However, the time limit on reporting does not necessarily apply to convictions.
Decreasing Barriers to Employment Decreases Recidivism
There’s no clear cause-and-effect answer to this issue, but there are strong indicators that there is a link between employment – particularly satisfying employment that pays a living wage – and avoiding future contacts with the criminal justice system. One study from the University of Cincinnati found that people released from jail or prison who had arrangements for post-release employment were about half as likely to commit another crime as those who did not have jobs waiting.
In other words, removing obstacles to employment after a criminal conviction may actually reduce the risk of future offenses. That reduction not only gives the person improved chances of a better life and allows them to better provide for their families, but it can also reduce crime rates and risk to the community.
Expungement is Underutilized
Nearly all U.S. states offer some type of expungement, sealing, or setting aside of past criminal convictions. But, even in states that provide pathways to meaningful relief from the stigma and limitations of a past conviction, only a small percentage of eligible people pursue expungement.
- Data including thousands of people convicted of eligible crimes in Michigan suggests that between 5.7% and 6.5% of people eligible to pursue expungement of criminal records did so in the five years after becoming eligible, and
- More than half of respondents to a Kentucky survey said their past criminal convictions were interfering with their ability to support their families, and 40% said their criminal history prevented them from securing stable housing–still, 77% said they’d never tried to get their records cleared
These are just two examples of the low rates at which people who have been convicted of eligible crimes pursue and receive expungements. The Kentucky study referenced above sheds some light on the reasons people don’t pursue this all-important remedy, even as they experience significant negative consequences of the conviction. Some of the most common include:
- Not knowing how to pursue expungement,
- The belief that pursuing expungement would be too expensive,
- Difficulty finding a lawyer, and
- Other obstacles, including being intimidated by the process, not knowing whether they were eligible, not knowing where to look for help, and transportation issues
Pursuing an Oregon expungement can be complicated, and it’s important to ensure that you’re covering every step in the process and providing all necessary information and documentation. So, it’s no surprise that many people find the process intimidating, or are unsure how to get started.
Working with an experienced expungement attorney takes that burden off the person seeking to clear their record. Lohrke Law pursues expungement and other rights restoration proceedings on our client’s behalf. You can rest assured that the process is in competent, experienced hands. Most expungement cases take about six months to complete and do not require a court appearance.
If your criminal record is getting in the way of your employment opportunities, impacting your access to housing and other necessities, impacting your ability to fully participate in your children’s lives, or creating other obstacles, it is time to schedule a free consultation with Lohrke Law.