Criminology & Public Policy

DeWitt, Samuel E., Shawn D. Bushway*, Garima Siwach, and Megan C. Kurlychek



Research Summary: By using data on provisional employees with and without criminal records, we find that existing standards of a “reasonable amount of [arrest] risk” (derived from “time to redemption” research) for an employer to incur in hiring individuals with criminal histories prove too onerous for many employees without records to meet, let alone those with records. We then propose an alternative method of assessing arrest risk across these populations—benchmarking—and provide several alternative standards, illustrating that they (a) clear a demonstrable majority of employees without records and a sizable minority of those with a criminal history and (b) do not increase the risk incurred by employers over and above the level they already accept among employees without records. Policy Implications: Our findings suggest that the almost singular importance placed on “time since last” policies when conducting criminal background checks is ill-placed as the risk of arrest across populations of employees with and without criminal histories overlaps more than the results of extant research would imply. Although future research needs to be conducted to ascertain whether our findings generalize to other employment contexts, current background check practices would be better served if they were to adopt an approach that chooses a specific threshold for comparison, which should align with an easily communicated and face-valid cost function. Furthermore, the selected standard should (a) hold all individuals to the same standard and (b) be one that a demonstrable majority of individuals without criminal records can meet.

The full article

* Denotes CSDA Associates, Affiliates, and Staff