SEARCH Releases New Survey on Criminal Record Sealing and Expungement Practices

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The ever-growing use of criminal record background checks to determine suitability for jobs, services, volunteer opportunities and other purposes is mirrored by an increased number of requests from individuals asking that their criminal records be sealed or expunged so information on past criminal activities is not uncovered during such checks.

Sealing involves restricting access to record information and may involve the purging of arrest fingerprints. Expungement usually requires the removal/deletion of arrest fingerprint and associated information, although state law may allow the retention of select information for disclosure in limited circumstances.

The increased activity around criminal record sealing and expungement requests makes a recent SEARCH survey on this topic particularly timely. SEARCH Law and Policy Program staff conducted the survey in March 2010 at the request of a representative from the SEARCH Membership Group and released the results in April 2010.

The survey addresses state practices regarding the sealing or expungement of criminal history record information, and was directed toward the state central repositories of criminal history records.

"Record sealing and record expungement definitions and practices vary across the states, are usually authorized by state statute and are usually initiated by court orders," noted Mr. Eric Johnson, SEARCH Justice Information Services Specialist.

Thirty-five state repositories responded to the survey. In addition to questions regarding record sealing and expungement practices, the survey asked states to report the number of individuals who had arrest events sealed or expunged during 2009.

Interested in our other surveys? SEARCH is uniquely positioned to conduct surveys on important issues that impact the collection, maintenance and use of justice information.

Check out our Surveys page, which provides links to surveys conducted and released by SEARCH since 2000. You'll find surveys on such issues as:
  • User fees for criminal history record background checks
  • The status of state criminal history records systems
  • The availability of criminal history records
  • Whether states are able to comply with specific federal mandates.