Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

Columns

August 27, 2012

HAYDEN: Arrest, conviction records live forever in digital age

How long should criminal record follow someone?

INDIANAPOLIS – Last year, the Indiana Department of Correction released more than 19,000 offenders back into communities around Indiana.

That seems like a staggering number, doesn’t it? But thousands of men, women and juveniles are incarcerated in DOC facilities every year, then later released after they serve their time.

Many will live with a lifelong punishment of a criminal record that will make it very difficult for them to find a job.

Should they have thought of that before they committed their crime? Some people will argue that. But our state constitution says our criminal justice system must be rooted in the principles of reformation and not vindictive justice.

That’s why there are some state legislators on both sides of the aisle who are interested in finding a fix for a relatively young state law that allows people with years-old, low-level, non-violent offenses to shield that information from potential employers.

More than 1,700 Hoosiers have used the 2011 law to get court orders that seal those old records; in doing so, they’re no longer obligated to check the box on an employment application that asks if they’ve ever been arrested or convicted.

The intention of the law was to give people who’ve made stupid mistakes a second chance if they could show they’d straightened back up. But the problem in this 21st century digital age is that arrest and conviction records live on and on.

Third-party data collectors who buy and sell criminal records by the bulk aren’t yet required, under the state law, to update the information they provide to employers during background checks. That provision doesn’t kick in until next July.

During a hearing in the Statehouse last week, two of the biggest private data collectors threatened to challenge the state law in court. One part of their argument is that Indiana’s fractured court system makes it difficult – and therefore expensive for them – to chase down those court orders sealing those old records.

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