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The Eternal Criminal Record

Written By ESR News Blog Editor Thomas Ahearn

“The Eternal Criminal Record” (Harvard University Press 2015) by Professor James B. Jacobs “covers critical topics and is essential reading for anyone dealing with background checks and the impact of criminal records on individuals,” according to a book review by Attorney Lester Rosen, founder and CEO of San Francisco, California area background check firm Employment Screening Resources® (ESR).

In his review of the book by Jacobs, a Warren E. Burger Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Research in Crime & Justice at the New York University School of Law, Rosen explains that the work “provides an overview on the proliferation of criminal records in America for criminal justice and law enforcement use and their secondary uses in ways not intended or even foreseen by policy makers.”

The book makes the point that “it is best not to think of a criminal record as a single document,” since there may be overlapping records resulting in a “massive amount” of information about a person in the criminal justice system. “The criminal record is a kind of negative curriculum vitae or résumé,” the author notes, or a “criminal biography” that can follow a person around like a “branding.”

Rosen thinks the book makes the critical distinction between a “conviction” and an “arrest” by clarifying that a criminal record is different than having a criminal conviction, since “a criminal record is created for every arrest, regardless of the ultimate disposition.” The author notes an estimated twenty million Americans – about 8.6 percent of the total adult U.S. population – have recorded felony convictions.

Rosen also writes: There are sections of the book that would have benefited, however, from a more in-depth understanding of the screening industry. Background screening professionals reviewing parts of the book relating to the screening industry may well conclude that book’s understanding of how background screening actually works and how the process is and should be regulated falls short.

Nevertheless, Rosen concludes that “The Eternal Criminal Record” is a critically important book that surveys the use of criminal records and the practical impact of policies allowing criminal records to be widely distributed. “Anyone trying to develop their expert credentials in the screening industry should be reading this book,” writes Rosen, a frequent speaker on background check issues.

Rosen founded Employment Screening Resources® (ESR), a nationwide background check company accredited by the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS), in 1997. He was the chairperson of the steering committee that founded the NAPBS and served as the first co-chair. For more information about ESR, please call 888.999.4474 or visit

The book review was originally published on The Background Buzz E-zine for the background screening industry and a leading source of news for professional background screeners published by W. Barry Nixon. The complete book review by Rosen is available at

NOTE: Employment Screening Resources (ESR) does not provide or offer legal services or legal advice of any kind or nature. Any information on this web site is for educational purposes only.

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