U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

A New Look at the Employment and Recidivism Relationship Through the Lens of a Criminal Background Check

NCJ Number
Date Published
January 2017
31 pages
This study estimated the causal impact on subsequent arrests of receiving a clearance to work for individuals with criminal records who have been provisionally hired to work in certain nonlicensed health-care jobs in New York State (N = 6,648).
Criminal background checks are increasingly being incorporated into hiring decisions by employers. Although originally uncompromising—almost anyone with a criminal record could be denied employment—court rulings and policy changes have forced criminal background checks to become more nuanced. One motivation for allowing more individuals with criminal records to work is to decrease recidivism and encourage desistance. The current study used an instrumental variable approach based on a substantive understanding of the state-mandated criminal background-check process. The study examined age-graded effects within this group of motivated individuals and differential effects by sex in the rapidly growing health-care industry, which is typically dominated by women. The estimated local average treatment effect indicates a 2.2-percentage-point decrease in the likelihood of a subsequent arrest in 1 year and a 4.2-percentage-point decrease over 3 years. There were meaningful variations by sex; men were 8.4 percentage points less likely to be arrested over the 3-year period when cleared compared with a 2.4-percentage-point (and nonsignificant) effect for women. Older women in particular drove the nonsignificant results for women. (Publisher abstract modified)
Date Published: January 1, 2017