As arrest records rise, Americans find consequences can last a lifetime

Between 10,000 and 12,000 new names are added each day.

At the same time, an information explosion has made it easy for anyone to pull up arrest records in an instant. Employers, banks, college admissions officers and landlords, among others, routinely check records online. The information doesn’t typically describe what happened next.

Many people who have never faced charges, or have had charges dropped, find that a lingering arrest record can ruin their chance to secure employment, loans and housing. Even in cases of a mistaken arrest, the damaging documents aren’t automatically removed. In other instances, arrest information is forwarded to the FBI but not necessarily updated there when a case is thrown out locally. Only half of the records with the FBI have fully up-to-date information.

“There is a myth that if you are arrested and cleared that it has no impact,” says Paul Butler, professor of law at Georgetown Law. “It’s not like the arrest never happened.”