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Potential for Redemption in Criminal Background Checks

Award Information

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Total funding (to date)

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2007, $62,459)

Background checking, especially checking of criminal-history records, is becoming increasing ubiquitious in the United States. Recent advances in information technology and growing concern about employer liability have combined to increase the demand for such background checks. Also, since 14 million arrests are made each year, a substantial number of individuals will have such criminal history records. As a result, it is reasonable to anticipate that a large number of individuals who have redeemed themselves and are seeking to obtain employment will be haunted by the record of crime committed a long time ago, a record that contains no meaningful information about future crime risk. We know that the probability of recidivism declines with time "clean" since a last arrest, so that someone with not arrest for N years is of no greater risk than any similar counterpart. The problem is that we have very little information on the appropriate value of N, and how that value varies with the earlier event and the offender's age at that event. The proposed research asks the question of the degree to which a past criminal record loses its relevance in terms of its ability to predict a future offense. The grantee will attempt to answer the question using survival analysis methods, which allow us to analyze the longitudinal data of individual arrest records and estimate the risk or the hazard of rearrest. The data will be obtained from multiple state criminal-history repositories. We plan to analyze first-arrest cohorts from different years beginning in 1980. The grantee will compare the findings using both arrest and conviction as the relevant event. The findings of this research will contribute to the development of relevancy guidelines for the users of background-checking services as well as policy makers by informing them when existences of a criminal record is no longer relevant in determining the probability of future offending and so when it becomes reasonable to ignore or to seal such records.


Date Created: September 11, 2007