WSJ: Many Americans Can't Shake Arrest Record, Harming Job Chances

Wednesday, 20 Aug 2014 09:45 AM

By Elliot Jager

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Practically a third of Americans have an arrest record, even if no charges were brought, which can create problems when looking for work and housing, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Most employers conduct criminal background checks on job applicants. With more police making more arrests, and with the Internet providing easy access to the criminal database, Americans are learning that the stigma of rap sheet is hard to shake.

In response to rising crime levels in the 1980s and 1990s police followed a zero tolerance approach for even minor infractions. Crime went down and more serious offenses were probably deterred, law enforcement authorities say. Now, the FBI criminal database contains some 77.7 million names amounting to one out of three adults. Thousands of new names are added daily, according to the Journal.

A University of South Carolina study found that some 40 percent of men had been arrested by age 23. Among African Americans the rate was 49 percent, for Hispanics 44 percent, and for whites 38 percent. Almost 20 percent of women have also been arrested by the age of 23. Forty-seven percent of people arrested were not convicted, the Journal reported.

Individuals who want to prove that their arrests were for minor offenses or that charges were not brought find it's not easy doing so. Moreover, half of the FBI database is out of date, the Journal reported.

Precious Daniels of Detroit was unable to secure a job with the Census Bureau because a background check turned up that she has been arrested at a healthcare demonstration. She could not locate legal documents to prove that the charges were dropped. Daniels is part of a class action suit, along with thousands of other African Americans, charging the bureau with racial discrimination, the Journal reported.

Jose Gabriel Hernandez was arrested at home for sexually assaulting two girls. Authorities admitted that they had arrested the "wrong Jose Hernandez" and all charges were dropped, the Journal reported

He is still paying down the debt to the bondsman on a nonrefundable $22,500 fee for putting-up his bail money. It is Hernandez's responsibility to see to it that the arrest is expunged. To do that he would need to engage a lawyer to arrange for the local court to notify the FBI that his arrest record should be deleted, the Journal reported.

Meanwhile, a new California law prohibits websites from charging residents for removing mug shot arrest photos from the Internet. But a report by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers says that the "growing obsession with background checking and commercial exploitation of arrest and conviction records makes it all but impossible for someone with a criminal record to leave the past behind," the Journal reported.

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