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Reducing crime through expungements

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  • Mungan, Murat C.

Abstract

Expungement refers to the legal practice of having one's criminal record sealed. These legal devices lower the visibility of a person's criminal record, and thereby reduce the informal sanctions that may be imposed on him. This reduction is enjoyed by the ex-convict only if he does not become a repeat offender, because otherwise he re-obtains a criminal record. Thus, the value a person attaches to having his record expunged is inversely related to his criminal tendency. Therefore, by making expungements costly, the criminal justice system can sort out low criminal tendency individuals – who are unlikely to recidivate – from people who have high criminal tendencies. Moreover, the availability of expungements does not substantially affect a first time offender's incentive to commit crime, because one incurs a cost close to the reduction in informal sanctions that he enjoys by sealing his criminal record. On the other hand, expungements increase specific deterrence, because a person who has no visible record suffers informal sanctions if he is convicted a second time. Thus, perhaps counter-intuitively, allowing ex-convicts to seal their records at substantial costs reduces crime.

Suggested Citation

  • Mungan, Murat C., 2017. "Reducing crime through expungements," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 137(C), pages 398-409.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:jeborg:v:137:y:2017:i:c:p:398-409
    DOI: 10.1016/j.jebo.2017.03.021
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Keywords

    Expungements; Recidivism; Deterrence; Second chance;

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