Estimating the Labor Market Effects of the Criminal Record Expungement and Sealing
Friday, November 13, 2015 : 10:55 AM
Johnson I (Hyatt Regency Miami)
*Names in bold indicate Presenter
Past research has shown that even minor criminal records can create significant barriers to individuals as they seek employment, public housing, student financial aid, welfare benefits, and voting rights. Policymakers have attempted to address these collateral consequences of a criminal record through expanded access to a range of legal remedies for eligible individuals. At the city and state level, a number of jurisdictions have restricted access to these records. At the national level, the federal government has advised employers not to request this information from job applicants. In addition, many local jurisdictions are offering individual record holders, on a case-by-case basis, the opportunity to apply to have their records cleared either by sealing them from all but law-enforcement personnel or expunging them entirely from all law enforcement databases. While the potential benefits of these various remedies are large, researchers have yet to study whether, how, and for whom these remedies are effective. This paper provides estimates of the labor market effects of one of these legal remedies--criminal record sealing and expungement. Sealing and expungement statutes allow eligible individuals with minor criminal records to petition courts to limit access to these records. To estimate the effects of these statutes, we examine a cohort of expungement seekers (N=3,183) drawn from a legal aid help desk in a major metropolitan area. Using a difference-in-differences research design comparing eligible and ineligible applicants, we find that expungement or sealing of a criminal record is associated with a 2-4% short-term improvement in employment probabilities over a one-year period calculated using statewide unemployment insurance wage information. In addition, we also observe significant employment improvements for recipients of incomplete criminal record clearing remedies. We interpret these results as suggesting that the adverse effects of criminal records can be ameliorated using criminal record clearing procedures and that pre-existing strategies for mitigating the adverse effects criminal records also remain viable.