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A criminal history sticks around

The Internet remembers. Everything. In most cases, that’s good news as people can explore an almost limitless, and still growing, supply of information dating back decades. That supply, though, includes criminal records that employers, higher institutions and landlords easily can access, making it nearly impossible for people to conceal or detach from their pasts.

How a criminal record – which includes all arrests, not just those leading to convictions – impacts people trying to get financial aid, admission to college programs, housing and jobs was researched by Simone Ispa-Landa of Northwestern University and Charles Leoffler of the University of Pennsylvania. Their recently published study included subjects with minor records and those with extensive records.

The study’s findings illuminate some realities faced by people with past involvement in the criminal justice system, which equates to about one in three American adults. A majority of the record-bearers were not afforded equal education opportunities; could not dissuade potential landlords and employers from factoring their records into housing and job decisions; and were forced to face the obstacle of ongoing stigmatization.

“Blocked opportunities were a pervasive theme in their accounts, and this was true whether their criminal record histories were extensive or minor,” the report states.

While people sometimes can get their records expunged or concealed, those opportunities vary by each state and its individual restrictions. And even if criminal justice agencies will adjust official records, a person’s criminal history – even just an arrest – often leaves traces through newspaper articles, unofficial record-keeping agencies and other online content, which is hard to scrub clean of inaccurate or out-of-date information.

Additionally, criminal records can result in inter-generational repercussions, meaning the children of record-bearers also face barriers, according to a report by the Center For American Progress. An entire family’s wellbeing is threatened when a parent’s history hinders upward mobility and negatively affects income, savings and assets, education, housing and family strength and stability. Children who experience these challenges in their household then see the ramifications manifested in their own lives.

Because having a criminal history comes burdened with hefty and often lifetime consequences, those facing criminal charges should seek legal assistance from a professional to help them through the judicial process.