LAC Report: “The Problem of RAP Sheet Errors”

In what is believed to be the most detailed and up-to-date analysis of the different types of errors that exist in New York State’s criminal justice records, the Legal Action Center closely examined 3499 RAP sheets from its clients, looking at records from 2008 to 2011 and determined that at least 30% of these records contained at least one error, with some containing as many as ten or more. The actual error rate is almost certainly higher, as LAC identified an additional 7% of the records that appeared to have errors, but could not verify this because of difficulties in obtaining the necessary information from the police, courts, parole, probation and other authorities, especially information on older cases – some of these incomplete records date back to the 1950s and 60’s.

According to data from the New York State’s Division of Criminal Justice Services, approximately 7 million people have New York RAP sheets. Applying LAC’s relatively conservative error rate of 30%, LAC estimates that at least 2.1 million of these people have RAP sheet errors – and the number may well be even higher.

Errors include misinformation about warrants that appear open but have been vacated, old cases that have long been resolved but are missing information and thus appear as if they are ongoing – including some that were never prosecuted – and the failure to properly seal dismissed cases and convictions for low level charges (sealing limits access to information). In an era in which over 92% of employers conduct criminal background checks, and hundreds of licenses issued by government agencies consider criminal history, this error rate is unacceptable.

Such errors create barriers to New Yorkers trying to find jobs, obtain professional licenses, rent apartments, get higher education and public housing, and obtain other benefits. The errors will also diminish the impact of Governor Cuomo’s Work for Success initiative, which seeks to improve employment outcomes for formerly incarcerated individuals.

New York State has the ability to help address this urgent problem right now, with three pieces of legislation introduced or proposed that would improve the accuracy of RAP sheets. This analysis provides details on the extent of these errors and shows how the legislation would help to stop bureaucratic mistakes from hindering the ability of New Yorkers to rebuild their lives.

To read the full report, click here.

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