In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Criminal Records

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Criminal Records, Stigma, and Labeling Theory
  • Legal Access to Criminal Records
  • Inequality and Stratification from Criminal Records
  • Criminal Records and Employment
  • Criminal Records and Social Institutions
  • Using, Sealing, and Expunging Criminal Records

Criminology Criminal Records
Sarah Lageson, Christiane Schwarz
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 September 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0228


Criminal records are increasingly used in many aspects of an individual’s life, but there is widespread ambiguity around the accuracy and management of criminal records, especially in the United States. Research has concentrated on the stigmatizing and labeling effects of criminal records, identified the ways in which criminal records create barriers for individuals, and explored legal and policy issues related to criminal records. This bibliography presents academic, legal, and policy perspectives on criminal records. These resources describe theoretical considerations around criminal labels, access to and uses of criminal records, the consequences of criminal records, and legal and policy discussion around criminal records.

General Overviews

Criminal records have grown in number, scope, and availability in recent decades. Jacobs 2006, Jacobs 2015, and SEARCH 2005 (The Report of the National Task Force on the Criminal Backgrounding of America) describe current criminal record practices in the United States, while Shoemaker and Ward 2016 describes historical developments of criminal record practices in England. Lageson 2016 explains how technology has increased the availability of records, while Uggen and Blahnik 2015 explains how criminal records are pervasive in many aspects of life. Two official US government reports, Improving Access to and Integrity of Criminal History Records (US Bureau of Justice Statistics 2005) and The Attorney General’s Report on Criminal History Background Checks (US Department of Justice 2006) detail governmental practices for criminal records.

  • Jacobs, James B. 2006. Mass incarceration and the proliferation of criminal records. University of St. Thomas Law Journal 3:387–420.

    Jacobs analyzes the proliferation of criminal records, policies that limit access to records, and discrimination based on criminal records. He describes criminal justice agencies as both important producers and consumers of criminal records, the increasing use of criminal records in the public sphere, and growing trends to make records more available than ever before.

  • Jacobs, James B. 2015. The eternal criminal record. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

    This comprehensive book describes contemporary criminal justice record-keeping practices in the United States and associated issues with data accuracy and expungement practices. Jacobs argues that policy must balance the public’s right to know and the convicted person’s ability to move on from a criminal past, and suggests several remedies to eliminate discrimination, such as certifying the records of those who have demonstrated their rehabilitation.

  • Lageson, Sarah E. 2016. Digital punishment’s tangled web. Contexts 15:22–27.

    DOI: 10.1177/1536504216628841

    A succinct overview of how technology and the Internet, combined with open access laws in the United States, have created an online marketplace for criminal records. Lageson identifies the tension between the First Amendment right to publish criminal records (such as mug shots) and the privacy and punishment concerns for individuals whose criminal records are easily obtained through simple Internet searches.

  • SEARCH: The National Consortium for Justice Information and Statistics. 2005. Report of the National Task Force on the Criminal Backgrounding of America. Sacramento, CA: SEARCH: The National Consortium for Justice Information and Statistics.

    This report describes the growing use of criminal record checks and provides guidelines and recommendations for criminal backgrounding for noncriminal purposes. Recommendations cover topics such as appropriate levels of access, privacy and social safeguards, and complete and accurate records.

  • Shoemaker, Robert, and Richard Ward. 2016. Understanding the criminal: Record-keeping, statistics and the early history of criminology in England. British Journal of Criminology 1–20.

    DOI: 10.1093/bjc/azw071

    A historical analysis of the origin of criminal record-keeping in 18th-century England. Historical evidence shows efforts to collect criminal record data were primarily driven by local and grassroots initiatives, reflecting a strong desire to understand criminal behavior before the advent of the scientific study of criminology.

  • Uggen, Christopher, and Lindsay Blahnik. 2015. The increasing stickiness of public labels. In Global perspectives on desistance: Reviewing what we know and looking to the future. Edited by Joanna Shapland, Stephen Farrall, and Anthony Bottoms, 222–243. London: Routledge.

    The authors argue that the contemporary permanence of criminal records, created by new technologies, is contradictory to criminological evidence about desistence from crime (particularly that individuals stop committing crimes over their life course) and provide an overview of the myriad ways criminal records are currently used.

  • US Bureau of Justice Statistics. 2005. Improving access to and integrity of criminal history records. Washington, DC: US Department of Justice.

    A summary of the activity of the US government’s National Criminal History Improvement Program that describes ongoing issues in criminal records (such as missing data and a lack of updating records), and identifies opportunities for improving background checks.

  • US Department of Justice. 2006. The attorney general’s report on criminal history background checks. Washington, DC: US Department of Justice.

    This report details the public interest in criminal history screening; privacy, fair information, and fair use issues; private sector and noncriminal justice screening of criminal records; state and federal statutes governing criminal records; data quality issues; and recommendations for public policy that weigh these combined issues.

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