Reducing Crime Through Expungements
22 Pages Posted: 5 Jan 2016 Last revised: 17 Jun 2017
Date Written: October 8, 2016
Expungements reduce the visibility of a person's criminal record, and thereby reduce the informal sanctions that may be imposed on him. This reduction is enjoyed by the ex-convict only if he does not become a repeat offender, because otherwise he re-obtains a criminal record. Thus, the value a person attaches to having his record expunged is inversely related to his criminal tendency. Therefore, by making expungements costly, the criminal justice system can sort out low criminal tendency individuals -- who are unlikely to recidivate -- from people who have high criminal tendencies. Moreover, the availability of expungements does not substantially affect a first time offender's incentive to commit crime, because one incurs a cost close to the reduction in informal sanctions that he enjoys by sealing his criminal record. On the other hand, expungements increase specific deterrence, because a person who has no visible record suffers informal sanctions if he is convicted a second time. Thus, perhaps counter-intuitively, allowing ex-convicts to seal their records at substantial costs reduces crime.
Keywords: Expungements, criminal tendencies, general deterrence, specific deterrence, second chance
JEL Classification: K14, K4, K42
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation