American Criminal Record Exceptionalism

Kevin Lapp

Loyola Law School Los Angeles

September 1, 2015

14 Ohio St. J. Crim. L. 303 (2016)
Loyola Law School, Los Angeles Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2015-33

In recent decades, criminal records have proliferated and come to be more consequential than ever. James B. Jacobs’s new book, THE ETERNAL CRIMINAL RECORD (2015), documents their broad scope, wide availability, and the long, devastating shadow that criminal records cast. In this Review, I organize the material in this challenging book into three different claims about American criminal record policy: that in the United States, criminal records are exceptionally public, exceptionally punitive, and exceptionally permanent. I explain how this results in an inexpensive means of sorting and inflicting punishment by devolving a great portion of the work to private actors and the general public. It also presents a public policy conundrum for American criminal justice: the more information we collect and share about suspected criminals and actual offenders, the easier it is to identify and discriminate against those marked individuals. This, it turns out, increases recidivism, therefore undermining the public safety goal at the heart of comprehensive, accessible criminal records. To counter this perverse outcome, I marshal evidence and optimism for reforms that Jacobs considers either unattainable or unwarranted, including the possibility of juvenile justice policy serving as a blueprint for a more redemptive criminal record policy for all.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 21

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Date posted: September 3, 2015 ; Last revised: December 3, 2016

Suggested Citation

Lapp, Kevin, American Criminal Record Exceptionalism (September 1, 2015). 14 Ohio St. J. Crim. L. 303 (2016); Loyola Law School, Los Angeles Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2015-33. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2654382

Contact Information

Kevin Lapp (Contact Author)
Loyola Law School Los Angeles ( email )
919 Albany Street
Los Angeles, CA 90015-1211
United States
213-736-1165 (Phone)

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