Study: Banning Criminal Conviction Questions on Job Applications Increases Hiring of Ex-Prisoners

Former prisoners have a better chance of getting hired if a job application doesn’t include questions about criminal history, according to new employment research from Case Western Reserve University.

In fact, the practice known as “banning the box” (as in, the box job applicants are asked to check to indicate criminal convictions) increased employment of residents in high-crime U.S. neighborhoods by up to 4 percent, the study reported.The finding has significant criminal justice and economic implications: Previous research has shown that employment significantly reduces repeat offenses and helps former prisoners establish secure housing, health insurance and other basic necessities—all of which contributes to a community’s safety and stability. “The hundreds of thousands of individuals who reenter society—and our economy—every year are a significant potential resource that is unrepresented in our workforce,” said Daniel Shoag, a visiting associate professor of economics at the university’s Weatherhead School of Management.

Findings include:

  • Employment increases in communities that “banned the box” were particularly large in the public sector and in lower-wage jobs;
  • Positive employment effects were seen across multiple income and skill levels, as well as in urban and suburban areas;
  • “Banning the box” promoted what’s known as “upskilling”—increases in education and experience requirements—as employers substitute criminal-background questions for others to determine an applicant’s qualifications;
  • Employers stemmed a decades-long rise in the number of background checks.

As of 2018, 33 U.S. states and more than 150 cities and counties have adopted a ban-the-box or equivalent policy for public sector jobs, according to the National Employment Law Project; laws in 11 states and 17 cities require the same practice by private employers.

Many “ban-the-box” rules allow employers to do criminal-background checks later in the application process. The researchers contend this delay is better than a full-fledged ban, which may lead some employers to avoid taking any risk and result in discrimination.

Explore further: Individuals with criminal records may stay in their jobs longer