Pilot Study Preliminary Report: Jeffrey Selbin & Justin McCrary, Got Clean Slate? New Study Suggests that Criminal Record Clearing May Increase Earnings, SSRN Aug. 2014. Abstract below:
The more staggering impacts of the decades-long wars on crime and drugs are well-known. Almost seven million Americans – one in 35 adults – are incarcerated or under correctional supervision (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2013). As many as one in four adult Americans has a criminal record, mostly for arrests and misdemeanors (NELP, 2011). By age 23, almost half of all African American men, more than a third of white men, and almost one in eight women have been arrested (Brame, et al., 2014). Arrest, conviction and incarceration records create collateral consequences that too often serve as a lifelong obstacle to employment, education, housing, public benefits and civic participation (National Institute of Justice, 2013).
Perhaps spurred by these disturbing trends, public defender offices, civil legal aid providers and law school clinics have established “clean slate” programs to help people avail themselves of criminal record clearing remedies. Studies consistently find that people with criminal records have dramatically reduced job prospects and income. However, until now we have had only anecdotal evidence that clean slate programs improve employment outcomes or earnings for people with criminal records. Gainful employment is critical to successful reentry for the tens of millions of Americans with a criminal record because it has the potential to reduce recidivism and related social and economic consequences for individuals, families, neighborhoods and communities.
Through a retrospective study of clients served by the East Bay Community Law Center’s Clean Slate Clinic, we analyzed the impact of obtaining criminal record remedies on their subsequent earnings. To our knowledge, this study is the first quantitative assessment of whether clean slate programs improve reported earnings. Through econometric techniques to control for the effects of changes in the larger economy on earnings, we can report two preliminary findings:
(1) People with criminal records seek clean slate legal remedies after a prolonged period of declining earnings. This finding has implications for the delivery of clean slate legal services to people with criminal records, including targeting earlier intervention to help prevent deteriorating economic circumstances.
(2) Evidence suggests that the clean slate legal intervention stems the decline in earnings and may even boost earnings. It is too early to tell if the boost is significant and sustained, but halting the decline in earnings suggests that the intervention makes a meaningful difference in people’s lives and is a key component of an effective community reentry strategy.