Starting over after a prison stint is hard enough. But when your prison photo and rap sheet can be found online by anyone with Internet access, it can be even more difficult. The New Jersey Department of Corrections had maintained a database where you could find a photo and crime of any inmate, past or present. Now, that’s set to change.
The Department is removing photos of inmates who have completed their sentence and who have finished parole for at least one year. They say this is in an attempt to help former inmates move on—something that is difficult to do.
Civil rights activists are applauding the move, saying that inmates deserve that second chance, a chance to start over and do right once they’ve paid their debt to society.
Corrections Spokesman Matthew Schuman says that since they launched the site they’ve always received calls from former inmates asking them to remove their photos, that the site has made it difficult for them to start fresh.
An employer, potential girlfriend, or nosy neighbor could get online and see not only your photo, but your crime, your sentence, and your release date. Now, the information won’t be so readily available.
Not everyone is happy with the change, however. A spokesman for the New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association calls the move “censorship.” Jim Ryan says that the public shouldn’t be forced to “jump through hoops” to get this kind of information.
It isn’t clear why Mr. Ryan believes this information should be public or how an agency removing information off its own website could be considered “censorship.”
The ACLU is glad something is being done, but questions whether it’s enough. Alex Shalom, policy counsel for the ACLU of New Jersey says there shouldn’t be a one year waiting period, that the information should come off immediately after the sentence or parole-period has expired.
“While someone is serving their sentence, the public is benefiting by knowing this information,” he said according to the Star-Ledger. “But they’re done. They’re entitled to go on with their lives.”
The long lasting effects of a criminal conviction are numerous, and this shows only one of them. Your conviction, particularly if it is a felony, can haunt you for years to come. The only way to avoid this is to avoid a conviction in the first place.