The impact of a criminal record on one’s future opportunities

A criminal record can have a tremendous impact on one’s ability to find employment, seek educational opportunities and find safe and secure housing.

A recent article in the Boston Globe explores a very real issue that millions of Americans face constantly - the impact a criminal record can have on one's ability to find gainful employment, take advantage of key educational opportunities and even rent an apartment. According to the article, about one-quarter of all adults in the United States has some sort of criminal record, with roughly 9 percent of people having at least one felony conviction.

As technology makes it increasingly easy for employers, universities and landlords to examine individuals' criminal backgrounds, some advocates are questioning whether allowing these offenses to follow people for years or decades is wise public policy. After all, turning one's life around and correcting previous negative behaviors becomes much more difficult when so many people have access to this information - and often use it to discriminate against former offenders.

According to the Center for Research in Crime and Justice Director James Jacobs, quoted in the Boston Globe, the U.S. differs in this policy from most European countries, which have laws that make it much more difficult to find people's criminal records. The "stickiness" of a criminal background in the U.S. means that many former offenders are unable to find legitimate employment, especially in a tough economy. The cards seem stacked against them, leading many to return to criminal activities simply to support themselves.

The impact by the numbers

The Wall Street Journal ran a similar piece in August 2014, reporting on the fact that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has nearly 78 million people in its master criminal database, and that number grows by up to 12,000 per day. The problem goes beyond people who have actually been convicted, as even arrests in which charges were eventually dropped may still be accessible through a background check.

It is particularly interesting to examine the impact on the lives of people who were arrested for crimes when they were relatively young (under the age of 23). These individuals are significantly less likely to own a home, tend to make less money per year and are more likely to live below the poverty line by the time they reach 25. These statistics, available through a study from the University of South Carolina, symbolize the long-term impact an arrest can have, even for people who were found not guilty or had the charges against them dropped completely.

Considering the effects an arrest on criminal charges can have on your entire life, it is imperative to seek strong legal counsel if you are facing the criminal justice system. Even getting charges dropped might not be enough, as your attorney may need to seek to have your record expunged or sealed to protect you both now and in the years to come. For further guidance on this important issue, consult a knowledgeable Dedham criminal defense lawyer.

Keywords: criminal record, felony, expunge