Minor tweak to job applications could reduce crime, researchers find

Have you ever been convicted of a crime?

It’s a simple question often asked on job applications and one that is contributing to a higher crime rate, according to researchers at FIU.

Approximately one in four Americans has a criminal record, a distinction many employers are leery of and often use as a reason to reject an applicant. Statistics show that without income from a paying job an ex-offender often will return to criminal activity.

portrait-2Concerns about potential employees being singled out because they answer yes to that question led the state of Hawaii to ban the question from job applications in 1998. Other states — Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey and Rhode Island — along with several major cities have followed suit.

FIU Criminal Justice researchers Stewart J. D’Alessio, Lisa Stolzenberg and Jamie Flexon examined data from the State Court Processing Statistics for Hawaii and determined the ban-the-box law there actually did reduce repeat offending. Published in the American Journal of Criminal Justice, it is the first study of its kind that links the legislation to improved public safety.

“A simple question where you just check ‘yes’ or ‘no’ actually wields tremendous influence in a person’s chance of getting a job,” said D’Alessio. “Policymakers all across the country should seriously consider ban-the-box legislation to improve the job prospects of ex-offenders. As our research shows, doing so can help reduce crime.”

The team of researchers found that criminal defendants prosecuted in Honolulu County for a felony  were 57 percent less likely to have a prior criminal conviction after the ban-the-box law was implemented. This statistic shows that ban-the-box laws can reduce repeat offending by helping ex-offenders obtain employment.

However, because data availability restricted the study to a single county, D’Alessio said the research should be expanded  elsewhere to determine the true effectiveness of these laws.

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