The Research Question
|~1 in 3 U.S. adults has a criminal record. Since having a record is a barrier to employment, various levels of government have enacted policies to improve job prospects for those with records. Most notable is “Ban the box” (BTB), which delays background checks until later in the hiring process.||While existing research has examined the impacts of BTB on employer hiring decisions, none have explored the impacts of fair chance employment policies on the perceptions and experiences of the formerly incarcerated who are seeking employment or are currently employed, which our study will examine.||To better understand the real impacts that fair chance employment policies, like BTB, have had, we will conduct surveys and in-depth interviews with those who have been formerly incarcerated, both who are seeking employment and are currently employed.|
An estimated 1 in 3 adults in the United States has a criminal record. Unlike racial bias in hiring, employer preferences for applicants without a criminal record generally do not violate federal law, and studies confirm that having a criminal background is a significant barrier to employment.
In response to these barriers, various levels of government have implemented policies to improve the job opportunities of those with a criminal record. The most commonly known efforts are “ban-the-box” (BTB) policies that prevent employers from conducting criminal background checks until late in the job application process. Over 150 cities and counties and 34 states and Washington DC have adopted “ban the box” (BTB) policies preventing employers from conducting criminal background checks until late in the job application process. While existing research has examined the impacts of these set of policies on employer hiring decisions, none have explored the impacts of this policy on the perceptions and experiences of the formerly incarcerated who are seeking employment or currently employed.
Underlying such policy interventions is the assumption that if public policy could change employers’ patterns of discriminatory behavior against justice involved job seekers, then the latter’s chances of employment would be much greater, and thus they would be more likely to find jobs. This perspective says little, however, about the effect of such policies on how justice-involved individuals search for work. One imagines that such policies might lead to optimism among them, but what if they are unaware that such policies exist, ignorant about their nature and scope, untrusting of employers’ responses even if appreciative of policymakers’ intentions, and, for any number of reasons, generally unconvinced about such policies’ overall effectiveness? And to what extent and how would perceptions of BTB shape job search behaviors?
The Research Question
Given current gaps in the literature, we asked the following set of questions:
To what extent do justice-involved individuals know about BTB policies? What do they know of these policies, how did they come about this information, and what does this mean in terms of their perceptions of its overall efficacy?
Further, how effective do they believe BTB to be in increasing access to jobs, and especially good jobs? And to what extent do these policies affect their own job search behaviors?
Finally, how does race, class, and gender inform how justice-involved individuals experience and make sense of BTB?
To fill this gap in the literature, my research team and I have undertaken a two-stage data collection project. The first phase of the project included a 30-minute, in-person survey conducted with 350 participants recruited through community partners at county probation agencies in Alameda and San Francisco Counties. Here we queried respondents about their family backgrounds, employment histories, barriers to employment, local knowledge of BtB policies, and patterns of job search, pre- and post-criminal justice contact and BtB implementation.
The second phase included 43 in-depth interviews conducted by phone with a purposively chosen subset of survey respondents. We will use in-depth interviews, which were 1.5-2 hours in length on average, to better understand how individuals’ perspective on criminal justice contact, fair chance employment policies, and other factors interact to shape their labor market experiences.
This study has been supported by grants from the Russell Sage Foundation and from the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment at the University of California-Berkeley.
Research Lead, Daniel and Florence Guggenheim Professor of Criminal Justice, Carol K. Pforzheimer Professor at the Radcliffe Institute, and Professor of Sociology
Harvard Kennedy School Research Assistants
University of California, Berkeley, Graduate Student Research Assistants
University of California, Berkeley, Undergraduate Student Research Assistants
Research and Commentary
Herring, Christopher and Sandra Susan Smith. "The Limits of Ban-the-Box Legislation." Institute for Research on Labor and Employment Policy Brief, March 2022.