Study finds worse employment outcomes in states with policies restricting criminal record discrimination – UB Now: News and views for UB professor and staff

Many states have policies to prohibit employers from discriminating against people with criminal records. Yet fathers living in states with more of these political protections in place were less likely to work than their counterparts in less regulated states, according to the results of a new study by a sociologist at UB.

The research, published in the journal Social Problems, contributes to a growing body of evidence suggesting that trying to tackle discrimination on the basis of criminal records without addressing parallel racial discrimination generally does not solve either problem. and could even worsen racial disparities.

“These policies are not associated with better employment outcomes for men with records,” says Allison Dwyer Emory, study author and assistant professor of sociology, College of Arts and Sciences. “In fact, they are associated with worse outcomes, not only for fathers with criminal records, but also for black fathers who have never had any contact with the criminal justice system. White fathers with records faced some disadvantage in employment, but the state’s particular policy was largely unrelated to their ability to find work. “

The article focused exclusively on how these state anti-discrimination policies affect fathers.

“It is appealing to put these broad policies on the books with the hope that a panacea will solve the problems, but my study shows that establishing a policy to combat discrimination on the basis of criminal record will at best not solve the problem. problem and, at worst, could end up contributing to increased racial discrimination, ”says Dwyer Emory, an expert in criminology and social policy. “The main explanations presented in this larger body of research highlight the racial biases and structural racism of employers rather than the qualifications of applicants.

“Employers could respond to restrictions on their ability to use criminal record information by intentionally using race as an indicator of case status, or simply by defaulting to racial stereotypes about crime in the absence of contrary evidence such as criminal record check. “

Criminal justice involvement is pervasive in the United States. More than 6.5 million Americans are under the scrutiny of the criminal justice system every day, and nearly one in three adults in the United States has a criminal record. The figures include a disproportionate number of racial minority men, the majority of whom are fathers.

People with criminal records face legal barriers, stigma, and limited economic opportunities, which is why some states do not allow employers to access criminal records as part of the hiring process or as an employee. hiring condition, although even states with the most protective policies leave room. for exceptions.

The motivation for these policies is clear: having a job makes involvement in criminal justice and future criminal activity less likely, but involvement in criminal justice makes it more difficult to find a job.

“When I see this kind of cycle, I see an opportunity for disruptive intervention, but the policies we put in place don’t disrupt that cycle,” says Dwyer Emory. “Discrimination on the basis of criminal record is a problem. It is a problem for those who have files. It is a problem for their families. It is a problem for individual communities and for society as a whole – it affects everyone.

Dwyer Emory merged two datasets for the study. The first set came from a previous research project created in collaboration with researchers from Rutgers, Boston University, and Cornell that examined how state policies affect fathers’ ability to engage with their children. family. This was combined with self-reported data from fathers in the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (FFCWS), a longitudinal study following nearly 5,000 children born (1998-2000) in major US cities and their parents over a decade with five waves of data. collection.

“The FFCWS is one of the best longitudinal datasets for studying the implications of criminal justice involvement for hard-to-reach families. Only parents were sampled, although the results are likely to generalize to men without children, given how common parenting is among populations involved in criminal justice, ”says Dwyer Emory. “This data was not originally intended to study criminal justice contacts, but the sampling strategy meant that many fathers in the study were at high risk. In my study, almost 40% had contacts compatible with a criminal record.

The study examined six policies (in place from 1996 to 2014) identified by the Legal Action Center as barriers to employment for people with criminal records, including prohibitions against refusing employment or obtain professional license to persons with criminal records from private employers, public employers, licensing agencies and taking into account non-conviction-based arrest records in the same three categories.

“This study does not suggest that all legislation is doomed,” says Dwyer Emory. “Consider first the application of the law. Let us be sure that anti-discrimination laws come with a solid infrastructure ready to deal with complaints of discrimination.

Dwyer Emory also calls for policy makers to consider the goal of a criminal record.

“These cases are obviously not all equal: they include a range of offenses ranging from serious to trivial; they persist long after any official sanction or rehabilitation has ended; and they are not always correct, a problem compounded by the inherent difficulty of erasing or correcting recordings.

She also mentions that previous research suggests that old records and minor offense records are not particularly predictive of future behavior.

“If the purpose of a criminal record is to indicate the likelihood of committing a future crime or the likelihood of being a bad employee, then we need to be more critical of the types of information we are looking for in this story,” she declared. said.

Funding for this study was provided by the Fatherhood Research and Practice Network.

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