The number seems high, but up to 1 in 3 American adults may have a criminal history. However, like with many statistics, the real information is in the details…what categories have to be included in ‘criminal history’ to come up with that statistic?
An article in the Wall Street Journal announces that up to one in three American adults may have a criminal history. But does having a criminal history make you a criminal? And does having a criminal history affect your ability to get a job? Is there any statute of limitations on a criminal history or does it get marked on a permanent record? Workers’ rights groups are very interested in these and other questions.
Apparently researchers first began to investigate how many Americans had criminal records way back in 1965. At that time Lyndon B. Johnson appointed a commission to study the criminal-justice system. The researchers concluded that girls had a lifetime chance of arrest of about 10% while boys had a lifetime chance of about 40%, working out to an overall lifetime rate for everyone of about 25%. Interestingly, at that time things like drugs, DUIs, and domestic violence were not typically arresting offenses. Things have changed just a bit since then. Even so, arrest rates for juveniles are actually lower today than they were in the 1990’s when crime rates were relatively high.
Criminal histories do to some degree stay on a record, and there is typically a question on job applications directly asking about criminal history. A nonprofit agency called The National Employment Law Project continues to try to get the criminal history question removed from applications and to delay background checks in order to give people a better chance of getting an interview. After all, it isn’t hard to imagine an employer screening applications and choosing to interview qualified people without a criminal record rather than those who do. Many criminal histories are minor and may have occurred many years in the past. After all, it is important to be able to overcome the stigma associated with a criminal history and get that first interview!