81% of Americans Would Rather Have a Clean Criminal Record Than an Ivy League Diploma

Americans Prefer No Criminal Record To Ivy League Diploma

Nearly one-third of American adults, more than 70 million people, have a criminal record, which can severely limit their access to loans, employment, education, housing, civic engagement, and public assistance. Many banks, employers, landlords, and colleges use background checks to screen for criminal records, and thousands of federal and state statutes impose disqualifications or disadvantages on those with a conviction.

Several states are leading the charge in progressive criminal justice reform, enabling people with past offenses to more effectively regain their footing in society. Residents who have records and live in these states often find themselves better positioned to thrive economically. 

We recently conducted a survey of 3,000 respondents, asking them which state’s model on criminal justice they would most like to adopt in their own state. Would there be an overwhelming inclination toward an ultra-progressive model like California’s, or would there be a tendency to favor models that could be perceived as more moderate, such as those in effect in Colorado or Oregon? 

The survey also unearthed other fascinating insights, including the fact that 8 out of 10 respondents would prefer to have a clean criminal record rather than a degree from an Ivy League institution.

California and New York Respected for Criminal Justice Reform

The survey revealed some interesting results, including the 10 states with the most popular criminal justice laws nationally.

1. California has a pioneering stance highlighted by its ‘Ban the Box’ initiative, which delays criminal history inquiries by employers until a conditional job offer has been extended. This state also boasts a well-rounded set of statutes for expunging specific convictions, given that certain conditions are met.

2. New York provides an extensive array of remedial measures, among them the sealing of particular conviction records. This is bolstered by a comparatively new statute that automatically seals selected misdemeanor and felony convictions after a designated period has elapsed.

3. Colorado has been proactive in criminal justice reform, especially regarding marijuana offenses. In addition to allowing individuals to annul some marijuana-related offenses, the state has looked into broader criminal justice reform measures. These include efforts to reform sentencing laws, reduce incarceration rates, and improve reentry programs for those leaving prison. 

4. Massachusetts prides itself on a comprehensive expungement statute. This law is particularly pertinent to convictions that are no longer considered criminal offenses, like certain cannabis-related activities, which are legal now in numerous states.

5. Oregon has instituted criminal justice reforms that have gone beyond the expungement of certain marijuana-related offenses. The state has implemented policies to divert individuals with mental health and substance abuse issues away from the criminal justice system and into treatment programs. Additionally, Oregon has been working on reducing the use of cash bail, which can disproportionately impact low-income individuals, and has focused on probation and parole reforms to reduce recidivism.

6. Illinois made significant changes to its criminal justice reform, notably with the legalization of marijuana and the establishment of a robust expungement framework for cannabis-related offenses. The state’s efforts extend to transforming the bail system to promote fairness, regardless of income, and implementing targeted programs to reduce recidivism. 

7. Michigan has taken significant steps in criminal justice reform, which include a Clean Slate initiative. This legislative package aims to expand expungement options for residents, making it easier for individuals with certain criminal records to have their records sealed from public view. This could potentially benefit hundreds of thousands of residents, improving their access to employment, housing, and other opportunities.

8. New Jersey has implemented a comprehensive criminal justice reform package, including changes to its bail system, with the goal of ensuring that low-income individuals are not disproportionately incarcerated before trial. The state also has a variety of diversionary programs in place, such as drug courts and veteran courts, which can serve as alternatives to traditional criminal proceedings.

9. Utah has focused on criminal justice reform by adjusting penalties for certain non-violent offenses and investing in treatment and diversion programs. The state has aimed to reduce its prison population by offering more community-based alternatives and providing greater support for rehabilitation and re-entry programs.

10. Pennsylvania has been active in criminal justice reform through several initiatives, including the ‘Clean Slate’ law, which allows for the sealing of records for certain nonviolent misdemeanor offenses. The state has also been working on improving its parole system and reducing recidivism through a variety of programs that support workforce re-entry.

63% of Respondents Favor Automatic Expungement of Non-Violent Offenses 

BadCredit.org has created an interactive map of state criminal justice models residents across America would like their state to adopt:

Created by BadCredit.org • View larger version

The survey also delved deeper into issues surrounding criminal justice reform. 

The survey indicated that a considerable majority, 63%, are in favor of the automatic expungement of non-violent offenses after a set period, suggesting a public desire for second chances. Moreover, 59% of respondents advocated for a uniform federal standard for criminal records reform, which would supersede the varying state laws, calling for consistency across the country.

Highlighting the stigma attached to criminal records, respondents were asked to weigh the value of an Ivy League education against the burden of a criminal history. The response was telling: an overwhelming 81% said they would choose to forego the prestigious degree if it meant having a clean slate, underscoring the far-reaching consequences of a criminal record on one’s life opportunities.

Looking ahead to the 2024 general election, the sentiment toward criminal justice reform may shape political landscapes, with 57% of respondents indicating that a party’s stance on criminal justice will be an influential factor in their vote.

Ashley Fricker, Senior Editor with BadCredit.org, commented on the findings:

The survey results clearly show that Americans across the board recognize the profound implications a criminal record can have on a person’s life trajectory. The public is calling for thoughtful reform that considers the long-term welfare of individuals and, by extension, the health of our communities.

Survey Methodology

We surveyed a panel of 3,000 adults based on age, gender, and geography and used internal data sources to obtain population data sets. We used a two-step process to ensure representativeness through stratified sampling and post-stratification weighting.