Wed, 3 Oct 2018

Many US Adults Have an Arrest or a Conviction

There's a rising trend in the number of adult Americans arrested or convicted. 1 out of 4 US adults have an arrest or conviction? Is it correct? Andrew Cuomo wrote an article in 2017, saying that 1 in 3 adults have some kinds of criminal record. That's nearly 70 million people! But it depends on how you define it. The term 'criminal record' is ambiguous.

The statistics may seem alarming, so does this mean that the US is a land of criminals? Is lawlessness rampant? Well, not quite. For one, having an arrest record is not always synonymous to doing a serious crime. A conviction is not only for serious crimes like murder, theft or larceny. Arrests and convictions also extend to minor offenses.

Effects of an arrest record

An arrest already becomes part of the criminal record regardless if it was for a minor offense or a serious crime. Even if no formal charges were filed, an arrest remains on record.

Therefore, if someone accused a person with disorderly conduct and had that person arrested, it goes on record. If no formal charges were filed, the arrest record remains. If the charges were dropped or dismissed, the record remains. If there was a lawsuit and the person was proven innocent, the arrest record remains.

No matter how the arrest turned out to be, it becomes part of a criminal record and the person suffers from the negative impact of that arrest record.

Effects of convictions

The same thing happens for convictions. It does not matter if the conviction was for a minor offense or a serious crime, the weight is still the same. The negative impact on the person's life is the same.

Employment and Arrest Records

Any arrest already carries a sentence, not by the courts, but by the society. One of the most impacted by a criminal record is employment.

In a 2012 survey conducted by the Society for Human Resources Management, 86% of employers get criminal background checks on applicants for certain positions.

Another study done in 2010 by the same group also found that employers take all arrests into consideration. Any kind of arrest has an influence on their hiring judgments. Even arrests without convictions hold some influence over the hiring decisions of 31% of employers.

Hence, chances for good employment drastically plummets for a person who had been arrested and/or convicted in the past, no matter how minor that offense might be. For example, an arrest for a DUI (driving under influence) without any charges filed and with blood alcohol levels slightly above the legal limit can radically shoot down a chance for a good paying job.

Employment and Convictions

Most people consider a convicted person to be a hardened criminal. People think that "convicted" is solely for people who did serious crimes like drug trafficking, murder or grand larceny. This stigma carries a huge negative impact for people trying to find a job.

First off, not all convictions are the same. Most of those on record are for minor offenses like petty traffic violations or misconducts. Despite that, convictions remain a huge detriment to anyone's record.

According to a study conducted by the Justice Department in 2009, a past conviction greatly reduces the chances for employment by 50%. That is regardless of what the conviction was for. A person may have been convicted for a minor traffic violation but gets the same high chance of rejection as a person convicted of a felony.

Moreover, a conviction has twice the negative impact on Black American job-seekers compared to white job-seekers, even if they have very similar qualifications.

A conviction on a criminal record is almost instant refusal for an application.

A closer look at the statistics

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) maintains the III or the Interstate Identification Index. This is a database that indexes all arrests and convictions from all states. The aim of the III is for all law enforcement agencies across the US to have quick access to complete criminal histories. This also makes it easier for anyone to check if someone has a criminal record.

With the above statistics, most adults in the US today will be on that database.

According to a 2012 survey by the Department of Justice, state repositories for criminal history has more than 100 million records. These are commonly referred to as "rap sheets". These records contain every arrest, regardless if the arrest lead to an indictment or a conviction or not. Hence, even an arrest for the pettiest reasons goes into a criminal record. Most people who have rap sheets or criminal records were never convicted of any serious crime.

Nearly every American adult is on that database because it includes everything, from arrests for the most minor offense to convictions of the most gruesome crimes. The nation's criminal record systems bundles up everything in a singular category.

Comparison of the Statistics

All the state criminal history repositories are now indexed by the III. More than 70 million people have records on the III as of July 1, 2015. The numbers keep growing each year.

Additional data also showed that almost half of Black American males and nearly 40% of white males have arrest records by the age of 23.

If all the Americans with arrest records were put into one nation, it would rank as the world's 18th largest nation. It would be larger than France or Canada. It would be 3 times larger than the size of Australia.

The population of Americans with criminal records today is believed to be larger than the entire population of the US in 1900.

If all Americans with criminal records were to hold hands, they would circle the entire Earth three times.

The Truth about Criminal Records and Employment

Having a criminal record does not mean zero chances for employment. A lot of people with rap sheets eventually gets a job, especially those with minor offenses. However, these jobs are mismatched to the skills set of the applicant.

Criminal records severely limit employment options and these applicants get very little chances of getting hired for jobs that best match their skillset. Many people settle for jobs way below their qualifications, as long as it looks past their criminal records.

For example, a person who graduated with honors from a good school was arrested for disorderly conduct during a send-off party. This person now has an arrest record. That record will now get in the way of getting hired for a high-paying job once his prospective employer gets a criminal background check on him.

Criminal background checks are used differently by employers. A survey conducted by the Society of Human Resource Management found that 52% of employers perform criminal background checks mainly to avoid any possible legal liabilities. About 49% use these checks to ensure that their work environment is safe. A handful use the criminal background checks to assess trustworthiness.

As an end result, the person loses a lot in the process. The job is a mismatch and pays much lower. This also reduces their financial capabilities and economic contribution.

The employer also stands to lose a lot. Not every applicant without a criminal record is best fitted for the job. Most applicants overlooked for their criminal records are highly qualified for the job but weren't hired because of a rap sheet.

In truth, employers are not actually mandated by law not to hire people with criminal records for every single position. The only absolute disqualification for a job based on having a criminal record is when there is a felony conviction. Furthermore, this most often applies to licensed jobs - for a good reason. Licensed positions need to be held by people are trustworthy and law-abiding.


There is a growing number of people with criminal records in the US. This has a huge impact not just on the person but to society as well. The stigma on criminal records keeps talented people from contributing to the society and economy. Employers and offices lose potentially-capable people just because they rejected someone who had a criminal record.

Criminal Records Can Keep People Unemployed for Life
Decreasing Crime Rate in the United States
Crime In The United States vs Other Countries
People Search And Criminal Records
Find People's Criminal History
Searching For Crime Rates The Right Way
"I Plead the Fifth" - The Right to Remain Silent