Study Shows Nearly One Third of Young Adults in United States Arrested by Age 23

Further evidence that the number of people in the United States who have criminal records is larger than most people think, the federal government’s National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 (NLSY97) has found that nearly one third of the 23-year-olds participating in the study – 30.2 percent – reported being arrested for an offense other than a minor traffic violation, a figure noticeably higher than the 22 percent reported in an earlier NLSY study conducted in 1965. More information about The NLSY97 study may be found at http://www.bls.gov/nls/nlsy97.htm.

The NLSY97 web page states the study “consists of a nationally representative sample of approximately 9,000 youths who were 12 to 16 years old as of December 31, 1996. Round 1 of the survey took place in 1997. In that round, both the eligible youth and one of that youth’s parents received hour-long personal interviews. Youths continue to be interviewed on an annual basis.” The NLSY97 study “documents the transition from school to work and from adolescence to adulthood. The survey sample is designed to represent U.S. residents in 1997 who were born during the years 1980 through 1984. The majority of the oldest cohort members (age 16 as of December 31, 1996) were still in secondary school during the first survey round and the youngest respondents (age 12) had not yet entered the labor market. The original sample includes 8,984 respondents.”

According to researchers, 15.9 percent of the participants in the study reported having been arrested by the age of 18, a possible reflection of the increase in arrests for drug-related offenses, zero-tolerance policies in schools, and a more aggressive and punitive justice system. The higher numbers of arrests occurring in late adolescence and early adulthood, at a time when most people enter the workforce, are notable since employers now routinely conduct criminal background checks on job candidates. According to a 2010 survey from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), ‘Background Checking: Conducting Criminal Background Checks,’ approximately three out of four organizations – 73 percent – conduct criminal background checks on all job candidates. The SHRM Poll is available at http://www.shrm.org/Research/SurveyFindings/Articles/Pages/BackgroundCheckCriminalChecks.aspx.

The ‘Crime, Delinquency & Arrest’ section of the topical guide of the NLSY97 survey reveals that the youth respondents were asked whether they had ever been arrested by the police or taken into custody for an illegal or delinquent offense (not including arrests for minor traffic violations) and the total number of times that it had happened.  The questions on crime, delinquency, and arrest were collected in the self-administered section of the interview and the list of possible arrest charges included:

  • Assault,
  • Burglary,
  • Destruction of property,
  • Possession or use of illicit drugs,
  • Sale or trafficking of illicit drugs,
  • A major traffic offense, and
  • A public order offense. 

Additional information on the ‘Crime, Delinquency & Arrest’ topical section of the NLSY97 survey may be found at: http://www.nlsinfo.org/nlsy97/nlsdocs/nlsy97/topicalguide/crimeetc.html.

While the percentage of adolescents and young adults with criminal records – nearly one-third – is certainly surprising, the percentage of Americans overall with criminal records is only slightly lower. As previously reported in the ESR News blog ‘NELP Study Recommends Reforming Employment Background Checks since Over 1 in 4 Adult Americans have Criminal Records,’ a study released by the National Employment Law Project (NELP) in March 2011, ‘65 Million “Need Not Apply” – The Case for Reforming Criminal Background Checks for Employment,’ estimated that 64.6 million Americans – 27.8 percent of the U.S. adult population – had a criminal record on file. The report from NELP – a national advocacy organization for employment rights of lower-wage workers and the unemployed – is available at http://www.nelp.org/page/-/65_Million_Need_Not_Apply.pdf?nocdn=1.

However, despite the surprisingly high percentage of Americans with criminal records, employers using criminal background checks for employment purposes should be careful not to have a “blanket policy” that excludes job applicants who are ex-offenders, according to Attorney Lester Rosen, founder and CEO of Employment Screening Resources (ESR), a nationwide background check firm accredited by the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS).

Rosen warns employers to follow the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidelines for conviction records under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that prohibits discrimination in employment based on race, gender, national origin, and other protected categories. Rosen says that to follow the EEOC guidelines on conviction records employers must show they considered the following three factors to determine whether their decision was justified by business necessity:

  • The nature and gravity of the offense or offenses;
  • The time that has passed since the conviction and/or completion of the sentence; and
  • The nature of the job held or sought.

“An employer cannot simply say, ‘No one with a criminal record need apply.’ That statistically could end up having an unfair impact on certain groups,” says Rosen, the author of ‘The Safe Hiring Manual’ and a frequent speaker on due diligence and background screening issues. “Instead, if an applicant has a criminal record, the employer must determine if there is a rational, job-related reason why that person is unfit for that job.  In other words, an employer must show that the consideration of the applicant’s criminal record is job-related and consistent with business necessity.”

The EEOC policy statement on the issues of conviction records is available at: http://www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/convict1.html.

For more information on the use of criminal records in background checks, read ESR News blogs tagged ‘criminal records’ and visit the Employment Screening Resources (ESR) website at http://www.ESRcheck.com or call toll free 888.999.4474.

Sources:
http://www.bls.gov/nls/nlsy97.htm.
http://www.nlsinfo.org/nlsy97/nlsdocs/nlsy97/topicalguide/crimeetc.html.
http://www.shrm.org/Research/SurveyFindings/Articles/Pages/BackgroundCheckCriminalChecks.aspx.
http://www.nelp.org/page/-/65_Million_Need_Not_Apply.pdf?nocdn=1.
http://www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/convict1.html.

About Employment Screening Resources (ESR):
Founded in 1997 in the San Francisco, CA area,
Employment Screening Resources (ESR) literally wrote the book on background screening with “The Safe Hiring Manual” by ESR Founder and CEO Lester Rosen. ESR streamlines the screening process and reduces administrative overhead though its proprietary technology solutions.  ESR is accredited by The National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS®), a distinction held by less than two percent of all screening firms. This important recognition was achieved by successfully passing a third party audit demonstrating compliance with the NAPBS Background Screening Agency Accreditation Program. By choosing an accredited screening firm like ESR, employers know they have selected an agency that meets the highest industry standards. For more information about ESR, visit http://www.ESRcheck.com or call toll free 888.999.4474. 

About ESR News:
The Employment Screening Resources (ESR) News blog –
ESR News – provides employment screening information for employers, recruiters, and jobseekers on a variety of topics including credit reports, criminal records, data privacy, discrimination, E-Verify, jobs reports, legal updates, negligent hiring, workplace violence, and use of search engines and social network sites for background checks. For more information about ESR News or to send comments or questions, please email ESR News Editor Thomas Ahearn at tahearn@esrcheck.com.