Criminal Justice Record Clearing: An Analysis from Two States

79 Pages Posted: 6 Mar 2023

See all articles by Matthew Stubenberg

Matthew Stubenberg

Harvard University - Access to Justice Lab

Renee Danser

Harvard University - Access to Justice Lab

D. James Greiner

Harvard University - Center on the Legal Profession

Date Written: February 4, 2023

Abstract

Millions in the United States have criminal records. Many of these records are eligible for some sort of concealment from public view, commonly known as expungement or sealing. In this paper, we analyzed criminal records in four counties in Pennsylvania and several counties in Kansas to determine the number of records eligible for such remedies. In Pennsylvania, the analysis included both expungement, defined here as petition-based suppression of information, and sealing, defined here as suppression that the government (usually the judicial system) undertakes without petitions. Kansas law only allows for petition-based expungement. Our analysis found approximately 100,000 charges eligible for expungement in Kansas and 180,000 charges eligible for expungement in Pennsylvania, supporting prior research that identified a so-called “second chance gap.”

Our primary contribution, however, is an analysis of which statutory reforms would provide the biggest bang for the buck, i.e., would render the largest number of cases or charges eligible for a record-clearing remedy. We found, for example, that elimination of criteria related to legally imposed financial obligations (“LIFOs”) would render a surprising number of files eligible for information suppression. In addition, our analysis identified approximately 200,000 charges that were eligible for sealing in Pennsylvania but were still available to the public online at the time of the data retrieval, suggesting that even when the government undertakes information suppression from its own databases, it finds the task challenging. Finally, our analysis examined why certain records were not eligible for expungement or sealing in each state. This additional analysis will inform legislatures and activists where their efforts can best be put to use.

Keywords: expungement, clean slate, web scraping, criminal record clearing

JEL Classification: K14, K41

Suggested Citation

Stubenberg, Matthew and Danser, Renee and Greiner, Daniel James, Criminal Justice Record Clearing: An Analysis from Two States (February 4, 2023). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4375289 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4375289

Matthew Stubenberg

Harvard University - Access to Justice Lab ( email )

Renee Danser

Harvard University - Access to Justice Lab ( email )

Daniel James Greiner (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Center on the Legal Profession ( email )

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