Monday, August 13, 2007

Sould You Know Your Neighbor's Rap Sheet?

The debate in today's USA Today deals with an interesting issue - how much does the public have a right to know when it comes to someone's criminal record? A pair of folks from the American Bar Association argue that easy access to criminal records prevents millions of folks (1 of 6 Americans has a criminal record) with long-ago priors and/or fairly minor convictions from reentering society and becoming productive citizens. They would make exceptions for things like sex offenders and disclosure within the criminal justice system. The paper takes the contrary view, arguing that open records leads to transparency in prosecutions and arrests and allows citizens to know important facts about others (including politicians).

I'm not sure where I fall on this. On the one hand, I'm used to thinking of criminal histories as off limits because they go in the sealed part of the appellate record in federal courts. Even the defendants don't get a copy. On the other hand, it's true that good things, on a meta level at least, rarely come from sequestering from public scrutiny evidence of what the state does to its subjects.

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