The Effects of Record Clearance on Ex-Offender Recidivism

  1. Criminal Justice Reform
  2. Incarceration
  3. Prisoner Reentry

Key Findings

  • Record clearance (or expungement) reduced ex-offenders’ likelihood of committing future crimes, and increased their chances for successful reintegration into society.
  • For ex-offenders, expungement reduced external barriers for success – including increasing job opportunities and access to housing and government aid.
  • Expungement increased ex-offenders’ internal barriers to success, by increasing their confidence and trust in the criminal justice system, making them feel more invested in avoiding future crime behaviors.


In the article, “Erasing the mark of a criminal past: Ex-offenders’ expectations and experiences with record clearance,” Chen examined the extent to which record clearance (or expungement) impacted an ex-offender’s ability to avoid committing future crime and successfully reintegrate into society. The study collected data from interviews with 40 individuals with prior criminal records, half of whom had completed the record clearance process, while the other half had not. The authors found that the expungement process reduced an individual’s internal and external barriers to effectively desisting from crime and successfully reintegrating into society. When an individual’s criminal record was expunged, it allowed for greater opportunities for employment, increased access to housing and governmental aid, and reduced rates of recidivism. Furthermore, the process of preparing for and completing the expungement process was found to increase an ex-offender’s trust in the criminal justice system, thereby making the ex-offender feel more invested in avoiding future criminal behavior. Overall, this study found strong evidence of benefits associated with both the process of expungement and its outcomes. By combating barriers to successful reintegration, record clearance may facilitate the reduction of recidivism.

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