Many states have begun to reform laws in an effort to improve employment opportunities for those with criminal records, according to a white paper from the CATO Institute dated Feb. 24, 2023.
The Institute cited a report from the Collateral Consequences Resource Center (CCRC) that says Utah recently expunged over 60,000 records automatically. The CCRC report also said that Missouri has automatically expunged more than 5,000 marijuana convictions since the legalization of recreational marijuana in the state.
“Improving employment opportunities for individuals with criminal records should be a priority for any lawmaker concerned about labor force participation or crime,” wrote the Institute.
The CATO Institute cited its chapter on Criminal Justice in Empowering the New American Worker where they estimate that more than 30% of U.S. adults have some kind of criminal record and that about 20 million Americans had a felony record in 2010.
“Often, these records constitute significant barriers to stable employment, thus contributing to increased recidivism and reducing incomes and economic mobility,” said the Institute.
Not only do individuals with criminal convictions face employment barriers, but also those acquitted or with dropped charges. “Sixty four percent of unemployed men in their 30s had previously been arrested,” said the white paper.
Currently, 21 states have some type of automatic expungement in place that seals an individual’s criminal record from the public.
“Research shows that expungement leads to more employment opportunities and higher wages for recipients, and that recipients are very unlikely to reoffend,” said the paper. Although many states expunge records, the process requires an application and application rates are usually low.
Before automatic expungement, tens of thousands of workers had a record of criminality for only procedural reasons. Automatic expungement removes records of non-convictions, misdemeanors, non-violent offenses, and previous crimes for offenses that are now legal.
Expungement legislation would increase participation in the labor force with minimal risk to public safety. Congress has discussed legislation to instigate automatic expungement for some federal crimes.