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fieldsg18 karma

I have been covering criminal justice for a long time and I did not know how the system truly worked until we reported this article. I was a bit surprised to learn that Mr. Hernandez in the first story was out of the thousands of dollars that were his portion of his bond even though everyone from the investigating officer to the judge acknowledge that he was not the suspect and should not have been arrested. It's legal and the bail company did nothing wrong but it does sound like there could be some tweaking of the process, especially in mistaken arrest cases.

fieldsg13 karma

John might respond to this a little differently but I can yes, there always is a concern that we can write a story in a way that is interesting and maybe tells people something they didn't know. We started out on this story looking at a press release that talked about some work the University of South Carolina had done on the impact of an arrest on a test group they had been following for 16 or 17 years. The natural thing to do was to ask, how many people actually have arrest records and might be facing the same problems as the people in the test group. We went to the FBI center that keeps all the information out in West Virginia and they were extremely cooperative. The number we got back on the millions of records and the fact that many of them are incomplete was a surprise for us. We both - good or bad - have at least 70 years of reporting between us and we were both surprised by the numbers so we thought others might be as well. That started things rolling. The technology and issues like background checks and the impact of rap sheets on individuals aded to it.

fieldsg8 karma

I think one solution would be to have a robust push to have the records updated. Of the nearly 80 million individuals who are listed in the master criminal records file maintained by the FBI, only 50 percent of those individuals have final dispositions on their cases. That means someone could have had a charge thrown out or dropped but still have a criminal record because the local authorities did not forward that action to the FBI. I think arrests that were mistakes also should have automatic actions - such as an automatic destruction of the criminal record that comes from the incident.

fieldsg6 karma

We did look at some of that to give us context and because we considered the idea of doing a story on what others might be doing. We concluded that might be difficult because the systems are just so different, in terms of policing, in terms of corrections, rehabilitation, everything. One of the big differences is we have 50 states and the territories that each have their own systems so it would be difficult to mandate things that all 50 should be doing. We do think there is always room for improving our system. The former U.S. Pardon Attorney, Margaret Colgate Love, talks about how other countries look at forgiving and forgetting and allowing people who have made mistakes to move on without the collateral consequences of criminal records. Some countries make it a point of locking away criminal records so they don't reappear when you are trying to get a job, housing, etc. Some also make the availability of those records difficult as well. I agree that if someone has completed their sentence and paid their debt to society that they should be able to move on. I do wonder if we should be including the consequences of a criminal record as part of the sentences now so people will know the full breadth of what can happen to them.

fieldsg6 karma


Seriously: the medium is changing. I don't think the concept of news and readers is anywhere near dead. Do I see myself now as a content provider as opposed to a newspaper reporter - yes. There will always be a need for people to get information. How that is provided and what device it is received on, be it a granite slab, a newspaper, television or a hologram, that need to know what's happening will continue. As long as people are curious and need information we will be okay.