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Evaluating the Impact of Set-Aside Laws on Ex-Offender Recidivism and Socioeconomic Outcomes

a PSC Research Project

Investigators:   Sonja B. Starr, J.J. Prescott, Jeffrey Morenoff, David J. Harding

This project will assess the economic and public safety consequences of sealing or expunging criminal records. Existing research shows that reentering offenders face serious barriers to employment due to their criminal records, and are also often excluded from certain public benefits and social services that could help them escape from poverty. Unemployment and poverty, in turn, are significant predictors of criminal recidivism. Thus, there is reason to predict that sealing criminal records could offer significant socioeconomic benefits for offenders and thereby reduce recidivism. However, no existing empirical research tests these predictions. Some commentators have expressed skepticism about sealing's effectiveness, and even assuming that it does have the benefits we predict, the magnitude of those benefits is unknown. Policymakers who are considering adopting or expanding sealing programs need more concrete guidance about the likely effects on crime rates and socioeconomic outcomes in order to determine whether the benefits justify concealing information from potential employers and the public.
This project seeks to provide that guidance by assessing the impact of a Michigan state law allowing the records of certain first-time offenders to be set aside. Using deidentified data from the state police's criminal history database, we will track the subsequent criminal history of persons who have applied for and received set-asides as well as comparison groups of otherwise similar individuals. This will allow us to analyze the effects of sealing on recidivism rates. In addition, by matching the police data to data on the same individuals in the state tax and benefits databases, we will be able to assess sealing's effects on socioeconomic outcomes for offenders as well as its budgetary impact on the state.

Funding Period: 09/01/2010 to 08/31/2014

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