More than 70 million Americans have criminal records and many of them could have their pasts expunged, the Pew Charitable Trusts reports.
Research showed 23,386 people convicted of a crime could apply to have the record obliterated, according to Matthew Stubenberg, a Maryland lawyer and software programmer.
Stubenberg’s research further discovered less than a third of those people appealed to have their records expunged. Failure to do so, according to the report, creates a barrier to employment, housing, student loans and a professional license.
Many legal analysts and specialists in the field of expungement say this is not unusual. Many Americans who have served time on misdemeanor and felony offenses are not utilizing laws that allow them to erase and seal their records of arrests and convictions.
A study conducted by the Vera Institute of Justice, a nonprofit criminal justice research center, showed 31 states passed expungement laws between the years of 2009 and 2014. The report states that the changes allowed records to be expunged, destroyed, sealed or shielded from the public, but accessible to law enforcement.
“A lot of people might be eligible (for an expungement) but they might not know,” said Madeline Neighly of the nonpartisan Council of State Governments Justice Center. “They might not have access to the paperwork or someone to walk them through the process. They usually need civil legal aid, and in some cases it’s actually quite expensive to file for expungement.”
A lot of people might be eligible (for an expungement) but they might not know
Many states have made expungement less expensive. In Maryland, court costs for expungement amount to $30. Some states charge $50 to $250, Neighly said.
However, high fees such as these, might be too difficult for poor and struggling people to pay, says the report.
“In some cases, someone who’s looking for work who can’t (get a job) because of their record may not have the money to pay to get their record cleared,” Neighly said. “It’s kind of a Catch-22 situation.”
More assistance is being provided for people who want their records sealed or erased. States are putting on expungement forums with lawyers, public defenders and law students, and mobile apps and websites are put in place to help people determine whether their records are erasable. A San Francisco–based website helps people contact a public defender who can help them with expungement proceedings.