This is the title of an important symposium piece by Eisha Jain published by the Stanford Law Review, in which she urges that “racial reckoning in policing” include consideration of the negative credentialing effect of arrest records. Using the sociological framework of “marking,” Jain shows how unjustified arrests “both magnify and conceal race-based discrimination.” She argues that “Reckoning with race in the criminal justice system requires recognizing that the problem is not just the police: It is with a legal regime that entrenches racial subordination through criminal records.”
The good news is that many of the criminal record reforms of the last several years provide for automatic or expedited expungement or sealing of non-conviction records. (See our 50-state chart on “Process for expunging or sealing non-convictions” and our Model Law on Non-Conviction Records recommending automatic expungement.) But the bad news is that even the laws streamlining the sealing of non-conviction records in two dozen states frequently fail to extend to records of uncharged arrests, which can linger in police files and repositories long after court records have been sealed. In the hands of police agencies, they may lead to further policing abuses. Disseminated through background checks and the internet they limit employment, housing, and other opportunities. When considering how to neutralize the effect of non-conviction records, jurisdictions must concern themselves with this neglected source of racial inequity.
Here is the abstract of Professor Jain’s article:
This Essay argues that racial reckoning in policing should include a racial reckoning in the use of criminal records. Arrests alone—regardless of whether they result in convictions—create criminal records. Yet because the literature on criminal records most often focuses on prisoner reentry and on the consequences of criminal conviction, it is easy to overlook the connections between policing decisions and collateral consequences. This Essay employs the sociological framework of marking to show how criminal records entrench racial inequality stemming from policing. The marking framework recognizes that the government creates a negative credential every time it creates a record of arrest as well as conviction. Such records, in turn, trigger cascading consequences for employment, housing, immigration, and a host of other areas. The credentialing process matters because it enables and conceals race-based discrimination, and because a focus on the formal sentence often renders this discrimination invisible. This Essay considers how adopting a credentialing framework offers a way to surface, and ultimately to address, how race-based policing leaves lasting marks on over-policed communities.
See the full essay here.