Expungement of Criminal Convictions: An Empirical Study

By: J.J. Prescott & Sonja B. Starr. Published by: Forthcoming in HArvard Law Review. Published in March 2019

This article is forthcoming in Harvard Law Review but can be read here. Prescott and Starr also co-authored a New York Times op-ed based on their research.

J.J. Prescott and Sonja B. Starr of University of Michigan published a study on expungement uptake, recidivism rates, and employment outcomes among people who obtained set-asides (which is similar to expungement) in Michigan. Analyzing set-aside records from Michigan State Police and wage and employment information from Michigan’s unemployment insurance system led to three key findings:

  • Low Uptake: Despite the benefits, only 6.5 percent of individuals received expungements within five years of eligibility.
  • Reduced Recidivism: Only 7.1 percent of all expungement recipients were rearrested within five years of receiving their set-aside, just 6 percent were rearrested for violent offenses, and even fewer were reconvicted. These statistics suggest that set-aside recipients “have extremely low subsequent crime rates, comparing favorably to the general population — a finding that defuses a common public-safety objection to expungement laws” (p. 35).
  • Increased Employment and Wages: Individuals’ set asides were associated with a significant “upward turn in the employment-rate trajectory” (p. 44). Wages increased on average by 25 percent within two years of their convictions being expunged, largely driven by “unemployed people finding jobs and very minimally employed people finding steadier or higher-paying work” (p. 45).

Categories: Employment, Employment, Legal Aid Practitioners, News Media, Policymakers and Funders, Reentry, Reentry, Researchers and Academics, State-Specific


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