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According to a Wall Street Journal article, nearly one-third of the adult working age population has a criminal record. One in three has a rap sheet.
Criminology professor Robert Brame and his colleagues discovered that nearly half of black males and almost 40 percent of white males are arrested by the age 23.
A Little Arrest Can Be a Big Deal
Watching TV, movies, or bad stand-up comedy, you would think that an arrest is no big deal, maybe even be a little adventurous.
No! The moment you are booked, a record of your arrest is sent to the FBI’s National Crime Information Center. There your arrest is entered into the Interstate Identification Index, where each person is assigned a unique identification number that indexes all state records existing for that person.
“There is no clean slate in the era of computers. You can never pay your debt to society because society, with its computers, never forgets and never forgives” writes Dale C. Carson, author of the book “Arrest-Proof Yourself.”
Arrests are matter of public record in many states. In my home state, our DMV offers arrest record searches for free.
An arrest is NOT the same as a conviction. You know that. I know that. But depending on the prejudice of someone reading your arrest record, then an arrest may be tantamount to a conviction.
Every Arrest Has Consequences
A 2012 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management, found that 86 percent of employers use criminal background checks on at least some candidates, with the majority (69 percent) checking all candidates.
How many job applications have you filled out that have a box next to the words: “Have you ever been arrested for a serious crime?” Not convicted, just arrested. It’s reasonable to acknowledge that checking that box reduces your appeal.
Could you still get the job? Of course! One-third of this country has an arrest record! Your own boss might have an arrest record! But you’ve lost an important edge.
But There’s Hope
“Legislators and private sector employers are recognizing the futility of chasing ghosts in prospective employees’ pasts and are beginning to adopt common-sense reforms,” writes Matthew Friedman, an Economic Fellow for The Brennan Center for Justice. Friedman has also authored a report “Just Facts: As Many Americans Have Criminal Records As College Diplomas,” which is a must-read for arrest analysis.
A 2017 report by the National Employment Law Project (NELP) lists 27 states that have adopted a “ban-the-box” policy for state employment. There are 9 states that have mandated the removal of conviction history questions from job applications for private employers also.
These laws recognize that discriminating on the basis of an arrest record makes little sense.
Some private employers, like Koch Industries, have removed conviction history questions of their own volition.
Conclusion (Part 1)
On the bright side, in the majority of the country, you have every reason to hope for a good job yet – even with an arrest record.
But like my dad used to say, “It’s easier to stay out of trouble, then get out of trouble.”
So how do you prevent your arrest in the first place?
That will be explored in next week’s blog, Make Yourself Arrest-Proof! (Part 2).
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Hello! My name is Heath Shive, content manager at ScholarFox. I'll be the author of most of the blog posts. I'm a former geologist and currently a freelance writer. The world is complex and seemingly crazy. Good! Because when you love to learn, you'll never be bored.