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Mark of a Criminal Record

NCJ Number
Date Published
249 pages
The two studies reported in this dissertation examined the consequences of incarceration for the employment outcomes of Black and white job-seekers.
The first study was a large-scale experimental audit of employers in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. This study involved the use of four male auditors, two Blacks and two whites, who were paired by race. The pairs were matched on the basis of age, race, physical appearance, and general style of self-presentation. Education attainment and work experience were made similar for the purpose of the job applications. Within each team, one auditor was randomly assigned a "criminal record" for the first week; the pair then rotated regarding which member presented himself as the ex-offender for each successive week of employment searches, such that each auditor served in the criminal record condition for an equal number of cases. The audit pairs were randomly assigned 15 job openings each week. The auditors visited employers, filled out applications, and proceeded as far as they could during the course of one visit. If they were asked to interview on the spot, they did so, but they did not return to the employer for a second visit. The dependent variable was the proportion of applications that elicited call-backs from employers. The intent of this study was to determine the extent to which employers used information about criminal histories and race to screen out otherwise qualified job applicants. The results provided clear evidence for the significant impact of both a criminal record and race on employment opportunities; ex-offenders were one-half to one-third as likely to receive initial consideration from employers relative to equivalent applicants without criminal records. Findings also showed that Blacks without a criminal record fared no better, and perhaps worse, than did whites with criminal records. The second study involved a telephone survey of the same employers who were involved in the audit study, so as to obtain self-reported information about the considerations and concerns of employers in hiring entry-level workers, with a focus on employers' reactions to applicants with criminal backgrounds. The employers' self-reports significantly understated the barriers to entry-level employment faced by both Blacks and ex-offenders. A comparison of the audit findings and the survey responses of employers suggests that although employer surveys can provide useful information about the relative preferences of employers, researchers cannot assume that expressed employer preferences will translate into actual hiring behavior. These findings are particularly disturbing given that over half a million prisoners are released each year in America to face significant barriers to employment as they seek to build new lives. Extensive tables and figures and 252 references

Date Published: January 1, 2002