Criminal records versus rehabilitation and expungement: a randomised controlled trial

Matthew Bland*, Barak Ariel, Sumit Kumar

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Purpose: What is the effect of having a criminal record compared to having the criminal record expunged in exchange for participating in a rehabilitative programme? The available evidence focuses on programmes comprised of the criminal record for the offence (i.e. labelling) and a punitive sanction or rehabilitative scheme. The interaction between the labelling and the sanction has made distinguishing the effect of each penological approach a challenge. Methods: We use a pretest–posttest control group design with a cohort of 341 low-harm offenders randomly assigned to either a simple, unconditional, caution or a 16-week rehabilitation treatment programme (after which the criminal record was automatically expunged). New crimes and a measure of harm were used as outcome variables. Results: Intention-to-treat analysis shows no significant difference in prevalence, crime count or crime harm. Factoring in those individuals who actually completed the programme changes this story. An instrumental variables analysis used to adjust for treatment compliance suggests that the offer to expunge the criminal record following participation in rehabilitation programmes reduces both crime count and crime harm. Conclusions: We conclude that as evidence on the adverse effects of criminal records on recidivism mounts, out of court disposals that lead to an expungement of the label ‘offender’ may provide promising intervention for low-harm offences. The experiment also highlighted the importance of secondary analytic strategies in experiments alongside the standard intention-to-treat model.

Original languageAmerican English
JournalJournal of Experimental Criminology
StateAccepted/In press - 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023, The Author(s).


  • Criminal record
  • Instrumental variables
  • Out of court disposal
  • Randomised controlled trial
  • Rehabilitation
  • Treatment fidelity


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