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Written By ESR News Blog Editor Thomas Ahearn

Researchers at Northwestern University have released a study entitled ‘Criminal Background and Job Performance’ that found employees with criminal records “have an involuntary separation rate that is no higher than that of other employees and a voluntary separation rate that is much lower.”

The study – authored by Dylan Minor and Nicola Persico of the Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management, and Deborah M. Weiss or the Northwestern University School of Law – found workers with criminal records to “be no worse, and possibly even better” than workers without criminal records.

The researchers examined the records of over one million applicants to jobs such as customer service and sales representatives collected between 2008 and 2014 and found approximately 264,000 applicants with criminal records who were less likely to get hired for these jobs and more likely to head back to prison.

Statistics from the study show over 650,000 offenders are released from U.S. prisons each year (Carson and Golinelli 2013), over half of released prisoners are re-convicted within three years (Durose, Cooper, and Snyder 2014), and failure to find work can cause recidivism (Uggen and Shannon 2014; Yang 2016).

According to the study: Job applicants with criminal records are much less likely than others to obtain legitimate employment. Recent audit studies suggest that lower human capital alone does not fully explain this difference, and that employers apply a hiring penalty to job applicants with a criminal record.

Researchers looked at “why hiring firms impose a hiring penalty and whether their concerns are founded on an accurate view of how ex-offenders behave on the job if hired.” Since “little empirical evidence” exists, the study tried to answer these questions by looking at hiring practices and performance outcomes.

Despite data indicating workers with criminal records had “a psychological profile different from other employees, with fewer characteristics that are associated with good job performance outcomes,” these workers generally performed the same in the workplace as workers who had no criminal record.

However, researchers did find workers with criminal records had “a slightly higher overall rate of discharge for misconduct than do employees without a record, although we find increased misconduct only for sales positions.” There was no increased risk for customer service workers.

The study – released in October of 2016 – also found that “firms that do not use information about criminal backgrounds seem to compensate by placing more weight on qualifications that are correlated with a criminal record, such as low educational attainment.”

The findings “indicate the need for some caution about drafting Ban-the-Box provisions that restrict the use that employers make of a criminal record once it is revealed” and Ban-the-Box requires “a better understanding of the predictive value of a criminal record for misconduct.”

The study concluded “those with a criminal record are less likely to quit their job voluntarily, and no more likely to leave it involuntarily,” and “workers with a criminal background appear to be no worse, and possibly even better, than workers without such a background.”

The study stated: In terms of policy recommendations, we must stress the need for additional work. At present we have no way of balancing the benefits of the longer tenure of workers with a criminal record against the potential costs of their higher rate of misconduct discharges.

The study “Criminal Background and Job Performance” by Dylan Minor, Nicola Persico, and Deborah M. Weiss of Northwestern University is available for download on the Social Science Research Network (SSRN) at

ESR Whitepaper Helps Job Applicants with Criminal Records Find Work


Employment Screening Resources® (ESR) offers a complimentary whitepaper written by ESR Founder and CEO Attorney Lester Rosen entitled Ten Critical Steps for Ex-Offenders to Get Back into the Workforce to help job applicants with criminal records find employment and re-enter society.


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