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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Accountability: Expungement of criminal records doesn't wipe away all traces

...Expungement doesn't wipe away all traces. Local news Web sites routinely post arrest mug shots, which are nearly impossible to eradicate from the Internet... Arrests that have been legally expunged may remain on databases that data-harvesting companies offer to prospective employers; such background companies are under no legal obligation to erase them...

MORE JOB SEEKERS SCRAMBLE TO ERASE THEIR CRIMINAL PAST
The Wall Street Journal, page A1
By Douglas Belkin
[Excerpts] U.S. job seekers are crashing into the worst employment market in years and background checks that reach deeper than ever into their pasts. The result: a surge of people seeking to legally clear their criminal records... Civil-rights organizations have long complained that young black men are disproportionately hindered when prospective employers ask about applicants' arrests or convictions. But attorneys say past offenses are increasingly catching up with blue-collar and middle-class applicants with solid work histories... Background checks have become more commonplace in the years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and cheaper. More than 80% of companies performed such checks in 2006, compared with fewer than 50% in 1998, according to the Society for Human Resource Management, an association of HR professionals.
ERASED, SEALED, BLOCKED
Though the definition, terminology and methods of expungement vary by state, its general intent is to restore people to the legal status they enjoyed before a brush with the law - often giving them the right to answer "no" when a prospective employer asks if they've been arrested or convicted. Most felonies, such as sexual assault or armed robberies, can't be removed. But in many states, some lesser crimes can. After a successful appeal, official records may be shredded, erased, sealed or blocked from view by anyone except entities such as police or schools. Expungement doesn't wipe away all traces. Local news Web sites routinely post arrest mug shots, which are nearly impossible to eradicate from the Internet. Search engines can turn up a smattering of decades-old news and police reports, plus caches of newer ones. Arrests that have been legally expunged may remain on databases that data-harvesting companies offer to prospective employers; such background companies are under no legal obligation to erase them... Some lawyers have created services to help clients clear records... [Full article here]

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