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The Effect of an Applicant’s Criminal History on Employer Hiring Decisions and Screening Practices: Evidence from Los Angeles.

December 2004

Harry J. Holzer, Georgetown Public Policy Institute, Georgetown University. Steven Raphael, Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley. Michael A. Stoll, Department of Public Policy, School of Public Affairs, University of California, Los Angeles.

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In this paper, we analyze data from a new survey of employers in the Los Angeles metropolitan area that includes detailed information regarding employer sentiments about ex-offenders, actual hiring behavior with respect to ex-offenders, and the methods used to screen the criminal histories of applicants. A more nuanced portrait of how criminal histories affect employer hiring decisions emerges from these data. Our analysis reveals that, while most employers would probably not hire an ex-offender, a sizable number would consider mitigating factors, such as the type of offense committed and when it occurred. In addition, we find that the use of criminal history checks has increased considerably over the past decade – especially after September 11, 2001 – and that many employers use private internet services to perform such checks. About half of these employers do so because they believe they are legally required to. We also investigate the firm and job characteristics that correlate with the use of criminal background checks and the likelihood of hiring ex-offenders. Our results suggest that providing accurate information to employers about offenders’ histories and recent activities could potentially raise the demand for their labor, while attempts to review the legal barriers states have imposed on the hiring of offenders might help as well.

Crime, Incarceration, and the Labor Market, Employment, Unemployment, and the Labor Market