The University of Texas at Austin   School of Law

Justice Center issues report on the use of criminal history records in Texas

The Law School’s William Wayne Justice Center for Public Interest Law and the UT Institute for Urban Policy Research and Analysis have released a report, “Criminal Records in the Digital Age: A Review of Current Practices in Texas and Recommendations for Reform,” addressing the increasing use of criminal histories in Texas for purposes unrelated to criminal justice.

More than 4.7 million adults in Texas possess a criminal record, often for minor offenses, and that number is steadily increasing with more than one million new arrests in Texas annually. The report highlights how, with the emergence of electronic databases, more than forty million criminal background checks are performed across the U.S. each year for non–criminal justice purposes. Widespread access to criminal records through government repositories and commercial vendors has led to an increased reliance on criminal background checks that negatively impacts the affected person’s access to housing, employment, government benefits, and educational opportunity—regardless of the nature of the offense or when it occurred.

The report discusses how unintended consequences of the original criminal record can prevent affected individuals from successfully reintegrating into their communities, leaving them, their families, and the wider community at greater risk. Surveying recent efforts in other states, the report offers recommendations for reform and encourages Texas to undertake a comprehensive review of how criminal records are accessed, disseminated, and utilized around the state.

The report was authored by Helen Gaebler, senior research attorney at the Justice Center. The report was funded, in part, by a grant from the Institute for Urban Policy Research and Analysis.

Access full report here.