Matthew Stubenberg, Renee Danser & D. James Greiner, Criminal Justice Record Clearing: An Analysis from Two States, SSRN, (Mar. 6, 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.