Ensuring Individuals with a Criminal Record Have Access to the Labor Market
Each year, more than 600,000 people are released from federal and state prisons in need of jobs that provide economic security. Research shows that having a job and somewhere to live can reduce the likelihood of recidivism. Yet returning citizens often face substantial barriers to re-entering the labor market. This is especially true of returning citizens of color, who already face multiple barriers to labor market entry.
Recently, there has been a bipartisan push to unwind the policies that have led to mass incarceration and overcriminalization over the past several decades and to institute hiring policies that mitigate discrimination against individuals with criminal records. Among the most well-known are ban the box policies. These policies require employers to remove the box on a job application that asks about an applicant’s criminal record and to hold off on performing a background check until a candidate is under serious consideration for hire. Twenty-nine states have adopted ban the box policies to date.
While ban the box policies can help alleviate the effects of having a criminal record, adopting the policy alone is not enough. New evidence suggests that employers could be implementing ban the box more effectively, reducing the likelihood of violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which covers employment discrimination. Additionally, there are so-called fair chance policies beyond ban the box, such as record-clearing, that states, localities, and the federal government should adopt. A comprehensive suite of fair chance hiring policies would ensure that people with criminal records have equitable access to labor market opportunities.
This report first discusses the collateral consequences of mass incarceration and recent progress to reform the U.S. criminal justice system. It then takes an in-depth look at federal, state, and local ban the box policies, before highlighting a case study of ban the box implementation among federal contractors. Finally, the report outlines reforms needed beyond ban the box.