Health, Wellness: Many Dating Apps Ban Convicted of Felonies. Does That Make Anyone Safer?

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"Inside Out" by Keri Blakinger is a partnership between NBC News and The Marshall Project, a nonprofit newsroom covering the U.S. criminal justice system. The column draws on Blakinger's unique perspective as an investigative journalist and formerly incarcerated person.

Jason Hernandez got out of prison in 2015 and started making up for lost time. He'd done nearly 18 years on federal drug conspiracy charges, and only escaped life behind bars because then-President Barack Obama granted him clemency. He settled down near Dallas, began volunteering in schools, visited the White House and wrote a book.


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Then he decided to start dating, so he downloaded Tinder. He was open about his past, and at first, it was fine. But a couple months ago, he got a notification: "Your account has been banned."

Jason Hernandez, shown at a park near his home, has been banned from multiple dating apps. Zerb Mellish / for The Marshall Project.


"It's using the justice system as a barometer of someone's worth," 

a sociologist said.


Although he can't prove the reason why, he's been booted from half a dozen other apps with similar prohibitions tucked into their terms of service: People with felonies — anything from a $10 drug conviction to capital murder — are banned for life.

These policies aren't new, but their enforcement has been haphazard.


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That could change. Match Group, which owns Tinder and a host of other dating sites, plans to launch a feature allowing daters to run background checks on potential matches. The company says its efforts are aimed at keeping users safe. But civil rights advocates say the record checks extend an unfair practice of imposing "collateral consequences" long after people have finished their sentences and will disproportionately affect people of color without actually improving safety.

"Meeting strangers can be risky, and I worry that this approach will mislead people into thinking they're safe," said Sarah Lageson, a Rutgers University sociologist who studies the growing use of online criminal records. "It's using the justice system as a barometer of someone's worth."

Match Group wouldn't say when or why the company created its ban, but a spokeswoman said Match would "continue to develop and evolve" its policies. "We understand and share the concerns raised about the impact our policies have on people who have been incarcerated, many of whom are victims of the inequities of the criminal justice system," she said.


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The practice of banning people from certain rights or activities because of a criminal conviction was once known as civil death. People who were convicted of felonies lost all property and rights before the usual punishment: execution. Now, the collateral consequences of a conviction typically last far longer than any court's sentence.

In some states, people with felonies cannot serve on juries or buy pepper spray, and can be disqualified from getting an electrician license or fostering kids. Employers often exclude applicants with criminal backgrounds, some schools won't admit students with felonies, and many apartments ban people with misdemeanors.

As someone with a criminal history, these are problems I understand. More than a decade ago, I was arrested in upstate New York with 6 ounces of heroin and sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison. Afterward, I stopped doing drugs, finished college and became a journalist.


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Read the full column on NBCNews.com and on TheMarshallProject.org

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