Experts Explore “Critical Policy Juncture” On Background Checks


Studies in the journal Criminology & Public Policy found that state statutes requiring employers to check criminal histories often lead to ex-felons being denied employment. The research indicated that because discrimination against applicants with criminal histories is common, ex-felons stand a better chance of being hired–and, consequently, not committing new crimes–when such statutes are not in place. Professors Michael A. Stoll of UCLA and Shawn D. Bushway of SUNY Albany, found that state statutes mandating criminal record checks for job applicants are the key contributor to the underhiring of ex-felons–not biased bosses with a grudge against ex-cons. When such statutes are not in place, many employers use the information to avoid negligent hiring lawsuits; others use only information with a direct connection to the specific job.

Harvard’s Richard Freeman suggested that more information about criminal histories–not less–would alleviate part of the problem. He said that, in the absence of more nuanced information about the nature of an applicant's criminal background, employers will think the worst and discriminate more broadly against applicants with prior convictions–even if they occurred in the distant past or for a trivial, unrelated offense. Christopher Uggen of the University of Minnesota argues that we have reached a “critical policy juncture” on the background check issue. Each writer calls for more nuanced and sophisticated policies that will preserve public safety while striking a better balance between the interests of employers and potential workers. Journalists who want access to the full text should go to the Web site whose link is given here and use the user name reporter, password policy. The journal is edited by Florida State University.


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