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A Cost-Benefit Analysis of Criminal Record Expungement in Santa Clara County

Meyli Chapin
Alon Elhanan
Matthew Rillera
Audrey Solomon
Tyler Woods
San Jose State University's Record Clearance Project

Executive Summary

In this report, we conduct a cost-benefit analysis of record expungement in Santa Clara County, California. Through the criminal record expungement process, individuals who have committed offenses and then served time in county jail or a period of probation can legally apply to have these past offenses erased from their public record. Applying for expungement is a legal right. However, it is not pursued by many people with eligible convictions who could benefit from it due to lack of awareness and/or inadequate

Having one’s record expunged greatly increases the chances of being hired because it prevents a potential employer from seeing the criminal record of a job applicant. The stigma of a criminal record is enough to discourage more than half of employers from hiring someone. Expunging records helps improve economic productivity and increases tax revenue.

In this report, we present a cost-benefit analysis of record clearance. Due to data considerations, we focus on the costs and benefits of expunging the records of exoffenders served by the RCP of San Jose State University.

We identified preliminary costs and benefits by carrying out a literature review of relevant reports, academic journals, studies, and books. We also conducted several interviews with practitioners and experts from the Public Defender’s office, the Stanford Law School, San Jose Office of Reentry Services, and the Santa Clara Probation Office. Concurrently, we analyzed original data collected by members of San Jose State University’s Record Clearance Project (RCP). These steps allowed us to further refine our costs and benefits, which we then converted into dollar amounts to the greatest extent possible.

We found the following costs to be the most relevant to our analysis: processing costs for the probation office and the court system, legal assistance, as well as the perceived costs to employers. These costs were weighed against the following benefits: increased income, increased GDP, increased tax revenues, a reduction in government assistance, a  reduction in recidivism, and an increase in additional societal benefits, such as access to housing. ...

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