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Life After An Arrest

Tagged under: Research USA Prison Criminal Justice
By Omid Ghaffari-Tabrizi on July 7, 2015.

Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections.

Chances are, if you've ever been arrested – whether or not you were convicted – you've dealt with your local government's version. Regardless of what your opinion is on how they do their job, the cold hard fact is that very little is done to help someone after they have paid their debt to society. The U.S. Code (the laws of the land) states that judges should sentence people while keeping in mind "that imprisonment is not an appropriate means of promoting correction and rehabilitation." The U.S. Code wanted our judges to make sure that people are punished, but given the opportunity to come back into society as a productive member.

Six Degrees of Separation - Prisoners and You

From the 1920s to the 1970s, U.S. judges followed the advice of the drafters of the U.S. Code. Prison populations remained relatively stable, meaning the number of arrests also remained relatively stable. The statistics closely followed population growth. The explosion in arrests and imprisonment starting in the mid-70s made mincemeat of that ratio.

Omid Ghaffari-Tabrizi created's graph showing incarcerated Americans from the 1920s to 2013

With the introduction of massive amounts of money into politics, the increasing influence of lobbyists, and various policies put in place in support of the War on Drugs, the U.S. went on an arresting spree. This resulted in a rise of the prison population of 289,563 in December 31, 1977 to 1,574,700 on December 31, 2013, peaking at 1,615,500 in 2009.

Omid Ghaffari-Tabrizi created's graph showing the growth of Americans in state versus federal prisons.

The U.S. Department of Justice's recent study found that nearly 100 million Americans have been arrested and have a criminal record. That is basically 1 in 3. That means your boss, your neighbor, your dentist, your doctor, and even your babysitter could easily have been arrested once in their life and have it show up on a background check.

Omid Ghaffari-Tabrizi created's graphic showing 1 out of 3 Americans with a criminal record.

Not All Criminal Records are Equal!

Of the 1.5 million Americans sitting in jail as of December 31, 2013, nearly 480,000 of those adults and juveniles are still in the middle of their trial. They are in jail as a result of pre-trial detention. That is nearly 30% of the total prison population, some of whom will be found to be completely innocent of whatever crimes they were charged with that resulted in their arrest. Again, another 1 out of 3.

Omid Ghaffari-Tabrizi found this picture of a protester from Ferguson, Missouri.

From those 100 million Americans who have been arrested, nearly 25% of them – 1 in 4 - were not convicted. They were not guilty, they were acquitted, the prosecutor dropped the charges, whatever it may be – they were found innocent and set free. But they are now counted in that 100 million among rapists, drug dealers, and serial killers. Their name is associated with real hardened criminals.

Omid Ghaffari-Tabrizi created's graph showing the growth of drug related incarceration rates among Americans from 1980 to 2010.

The U.S. vs. The World

There are a significant number of elected and appointed judges with backing by extremists in the legislature that seem to have the mindset that putting people in prison is the way to solve society's ills. These politicians (which is what some judges have become) want to be seen as the savior of our great nation. They would rather have a drug addict be taught how to become a better thief in prison than to get help in a medical facility because it makes them seem "tough on crime". This has left the U.S. with a larger prison population than any other country in the world – larger than Russia, China, Iran, or Saudi Arabia.

Omid Ghaffari-Tabrizi found this Wikipedia image showing the global prison population per 100,000 people.

Even within the U.S., some states are better than others. Some states are worse. For every 100,000 residents of Louisiana 847 are in jail, 692 in Mississippi, 659 in Oklahoma, 647 in Alabama, and 602 in Texas. As a comparison to other states: New York has 271, Illinois has 377, Tennessee has 438, South Carolina has 447, and Florida has 524.

Compared to Europe, Australia, and Canada, the U.S. is unsurpassed. When our numbers are put up against other democracies, our imprisonment rate is seven times higher on average. This is unprecedented in the history of the Western world and shows no signs of slowing down.

Omid Ghaffari-Tabrizi created's graph showing the difference among Western nations in terms of prison populations.

Most Likely To Be Arrested

No matter what Mainstream Media News wants you to believe, violent crime and property crime has been decreasing at a steady rate since the early 1990s, reaching figures from the 1970s – back when prison populations were averaging about 250,000-275,000 [Source: Uniform Crime Reports. Drug crime rate, 1965-1980; Federal Bureau of Investigation (1993), Maguire (n.d., Table 3.1062.2011, property and violent crime rates); Uniform Crime Reports (drug arrest rates)]. So why are arrest rates so much higher? What has been making up the difference in those arrest rates? Drug arrests – especially for marijuana, which makes up half of all drug arrests.

Omid Ghaffari-Tabrizi created's graph showing the difference in drug arrests.

Arrests affect everyone. 17% of inmates were 30 to 34, with 58% being 39 or younger. As of December 31, 2013, 37% of prisoners were black, 32% were white, and 22% were Hispanic. Compare this to the U.S. Population, where 13.2% of Americans are black, 77.7% are white, and 17.1% are Hispanic.

Omid Ghaffari-Tabrizi created's graph showing the difference in arrests based on race.

The Role of For-Profit Prisons

Many for-profit prisons, such as Corrections Corporation of America (CXW), GEO Group (GEO), Cintas Corporation (CTAS), and Sodexo SA (SDXAY) have lobbied our federal and local governments – and lobbied them hard – through their proxies at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC is the go-to source of people pushing for "tough on crime" initiatives, such as "Truth in Sentencing" and "Three Strikes" laws, having convinced 40 states to pass such laws.

Omid Ghaffari-Tabrizi created's graph showing the increase in ALEC promoted laws.

The influence of money has done some bad throughout the entire process. Judges have been convicted of sending kids to long term stays in detention centers after being bribed. Government contracts with private prisons and minimum occupancy quotas – 16% of those contracts guarantee 95% occupancy – which encourage arrests for minor offenses.

Omid Ghaffari-Tabrizi created's graph showing private prison quotas.

Corrections Corporation of America's SEC report in 2010 said it best:

"Our growth...depends on a number of factors we cannot control, including crime rates...[R]eductions in crime rates...could lead to reductions in arrests, convictions and sentences requiring incarceration at correctional facilities."

So basically, if there is a reduction in crime, our company won't grow, so we need to keep arrests up.

A Significant Barrier to Life

Whether you were arrested for jaywalking or for manufacturing crystal meth in a dry cleaner's basement, you're going to have a criminal record. Having a criminal records makes it harder to get a job. A lot harder.

According to a survey of the Society of Human Resources Management, 69% of companies perform criminal background checks on all aplicants. Studies done in Milwaukee [Source: Devah Pager, The Mark of a Criminal Record, 108 American Journal of Sociology 937, 955-58 (Mar. 2003)] and Los Angeles [Source: Harry Holzer et al., The Effect of an Applicant's Criminal History on Employer Hiring Decisions and Screening Practices: Evidence from Los Angeles, National Poverty Center Working Paper Series (Dec. 2004)] show that employers are refusing to hire people with criminal records for even entry level jobs. Perhaps worse than that is the fact that large numbers of research and reports find that programs designed to assist with employment after incarceration generate only short-term effects and are not successful overall [Source: Mead, 2011, Chapter 4; Bushway and Reuter, 2002; Bloom, 2006; and Visher et al., 2005].

Omid Ghaffari-Tabrizi created's graph showing private prison quotas.

For some, having a criminal record makes it nearly impossible to find housing, leading most people to live in places even worse than they lived in before they were arrested. Federal law allows people with criminal records to be denied public housing. Forget about private landlords' rights. This creates ghettos as a result of slumlords being the only people willing to rent to those with criminal records. Examples of this phenomenon are apparent in New York and Houston.

Omid Ghaffari-Tabrizi found NAP's map showing ghettos created by criminal record restrictions in New York City.

Omid Ghaffari-Tabrizi found NAP's map showing ghettos created by criminal record restrictions in Houston.

Having a criminal record makes an advanced degree a difficult dream to ever achieve. Being arrested for even little things like being caught with a drink on the sidewalk has been found to keep people from being admitted to colleges, with more serious charges being an even bigger issue for applicants.

Omid Ghaffari-Tabrizi created's graph showing the number of colleges that consider criminal record history in their application process.

Recidivism of Prisoners

These are the leading factors behind why nearly two out of three people released from prison are arrested again within 3 years, and over 3 out of 4 of those are arrested again within 5 years. When you can't go to school, can't get a job, and can't get a house, you are left with very little in terms of choices to make a living.

When you have a criminal record even though you were found not guilty, you throw up the same flag as a pedophile on a background check – a big red X that says you have been arrested. It doesn't explain that you were arrested because of a case of mistaken identity. It doesn't explain that it was your roommate, not you, and that the prosecutor let you go without a single charge. It doesn't explain that a jury of your peers found you not guilty. If you were actually arrested, it doesn't explain that even the government no longer thinks of you as an issue and views you as having been rehabilitated. You are still a criminal.

What Opportunities Still Remain for Somone who has Been Arrested?

While the prospects sound bleak, they aren't. Hopefully you've kept quiet and you haven't said a thing. Your lawyer or public defender has been your best friend. But once the case is over, you're stuck with the criminal record that came with your arrest. You need to take advantage of opportunities available to clean your record.

Almost every state (here's looking at you, Montana) and territory allows people with criminal records to Expeal – seal, expunge, set aside, or any number of other terms – their criminal records. While some aren't very friendly about it – Alaska only Expealed 2 records in FY2014, for instance – others allow even people convicted of minor offenses, not just those who were innocent, to Expeal their records. New York, for example, allowed 302,505 people to Expeal their records in 2013. Tennessee allowed 106,446 and South Carolina allowed 72,332. But like Alaska, you have New Mexico (81), California (1,196), and Washington (403) on the other end.

What is the Easiest Way to Seal or Expunge a Criminal Record?

Just because the law is there doesn't mean it is easy to use. Around 10% of all applications are rejected because the person filing didn't realize they don't qualify or because they forgot to do something. Some states, like Illinois, have several branches of qualification that lead to different applications that have to be submitted. Some states, like Florida, only allow you to seal one record and make you wait 10 years before you can expunge it. Some states allow you to Expeal your record with a conviction, others do not. Finding out what the process is in your state is not always simple.

Some Public Defender offices, Legal Aid offices, and even's qualification forms have taken steps to make things easier. They offer individuals the opportunity to find out if they can clear their criminal record. There are a number of requirements if a person qualifies. States often times require certified copies of the disposition of a case, authenticated copies of criminal backgrounds, fingerprints, pleadings to be filed in court, and more.

What Does It Take?

The process of gathering documents, notarizations, authentications, certified copies, and more is not the most simple of procedures to follow. If you make even a single mistake, it will often require that you pay the fees and make the copies all over again. A job that can take up to several months has to start all over again. That’s why it is important to research your state’s procedures thoroughly before moving forward. Getting it done right the first time can make a big difference in a person’s future.

New York's Chief Judge made it quite clear that expunging records helps people so much, that he wondered aloud: why wouldn't "any legislator want to allow people a new life?" The potential for someone who seals or expunges their record is massive – one man joined his town's school board after Expealing a felony from his record, for example. States are finally understanding that criminal records punish people long after they have done whatever the law required of them to pay back the victims and the country for their crime. Society is hurting, the economy is hurting, families are hurting.

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