Repost: Making Criminal Records Public

Posted Aug 31, 2004

NOTE: This is a repost of an article I wrote. I originally wrote in back around 2004 or so. I'm transferring it here to keep it together with my recent writings.

There is a move right now in many states to post criminal histories online so that anyone can view them. Why is this being done? The theory is two-fold:

1 - (least important) People can research job applicants to see if they are viable options for particular jobs. For example, if you were interviewing someone as a baby sitter, and a routine website check finds that they spent jail time on a charge of child molestation, would you really hire them or move on to the next candidate?

2 - (most important) It serves as a deterrent for the next generation of would-be thieves. Knowing that stealing some beer could get a person jail time AND lifetime public ridicule might make them think twice.

There are lots of people who think that this is a very bad idea. They worry about the stigmas of past deeds following people for the rest of their days. "They'll get no second chances," they often say. They envision rampant situations where people's lives are ruined for one silly mistake they made that keeps coming back to haunt them.

So let's look at a very recent real world situation where past crimes were kept private.

A short time ago, the Catholic Church (specifically the Boston Archdiocese, but evidence is mounting, showing connections as high as Pope John Paul II were involved) began taking a public beating when it was discovered that some priests were molesting children and the church would move them around to keep their "past deeds" hidden from the public.

The outrage coming from this incident threatens to destroy the entire Catholic Church system. It is that serious. But what is the specific part that most people are mad about?

The fact that the church kept these molestations secret.

In other words, they are saying they wanted knowledge of these people's past criminal history. This is the very thing that many (in some cases the very same people) are fighting against in regards to the US jail systems.

Some may argue that there's a big difference in that the priests never served jail time for their crimes. So let's put this theory to the test.

Let's say that priests were caught molesting and served jail time. Then they come back to church and are moved around again and their past is hidden again. What is the likely scenario? Right, the molestations will occur again.

So we see that jail time or no jail time is not a factor. The factor is whether others learn of the past deeds or not.

There will be those immature fools who will look upon this type of publicity as something "cool" that they can show to their friends and brag about. "Man I'm cool. I've stolen tons of cars. I got proof. Look up my jail profile." Of course they will learn in a few short years in the adult world that this kind of "cool" doesn't work to their advantage. If they can't find a job because they spent their teenage years stealing instead of learning and going to school, hey that's their problem. They're just thinning the herd as far as I'm concerned.

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