Study: Hiring of Formerly Incarcerated Increases When Criminal Conviction Questions on Job Applications are Banned

Formerly incarcerated individuals 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.

Other 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;

The study’s results were not all positive, though: Women—especially African-American women, who are less likely to have been convicted of crimes than black males—were hired less often in communities that “banned the box”; it’s likely an increase in the hiring of black men came at the detriment of black women, according to the research.

Kathy Gundlach, with the Washington State Department of Corrections/Reentry Division will present, Innovations in Re-Entry From Incarceration Into the Workforce, during the Workforce Development Conference in San Antonio, Texas, June 16-19, 2019.