Nationwide, momentum is mounting in support of “Ban the Box” and other “Fair Chance” hiring policies, which are designed to reduce employment barriers for people with criminal records. But the deluge of recent proactivity begs the question: Do Fair Chance hiring policies actually work? How well do people with criminal records perform once they are hired?
Today, 22 states and 100 localities have adopted “Ban the Box,” i.e. hiring policies that remove questions that inquire about an applicant’s criminal history on a job application. Fair Chance hiring policy encapsulates “Ban the Box” and other hiring related practices. However, there is minimal rigorous empirical research exploring the effects and impact of these policies.
Last fall, the City and County of San Francisco invited a team of four public policy graduate students at Stanford University to investigate and report on how its Fair Chance program (Centralized Conviction History Review Program, or CCHRP) is performing. The CCHRP may be considered a national gold standard for fair chance hiring policy, and has received praise from the advocacy and business community alike. The Program is unique in that it has systematized the hiring process, so that any job applicant’s conviction history is only reviewed if it is sufficiently recent and relevant to the job at hand. Furthermore, if a conviction comes up for review, applicants are given the opportunity to present evidence of rehabilitation to demonstrate their readiness to work.
We analyzed data for roughly 5,000 of San Francisco’s employees hired in the last year and a half. We found that the approximately 800 employees with a conviction performed identically to those without convictions.
Specifically, in looking at the proportion who were terminated for unsuccessful job performance (e.g., failure to appear for work, or a disciplinary action), the proportions were equal for employees with and without records. In addition, when scrutinizing the city’s policy for evaluating a group of candidates whose specific convictions triggered additional inquiry — a group of about 170 — we found that the policy opened pathways to employment regardless of the type of crime the candidate had committed.
The implications of our findings are significant. San Francisco’s program appears to be opening doors to employment for those with convictions in a society where so many doors have been closed. A criminal record is relatively easy to acquire, but difficult to shed. Today, approximately 70 million adults in the United States are burdened with a criminal record, which includes arrests and convictions. This is concerning since the consequences of a record are profound: A record is often a disqualifying factor in obtaining employment, housing and federal assistance. This obviously makes it difficult to reintegrate into society, and increases the likelihood that a person will end up back in the criminal justice system.
Our results indicate that San Francisco’s CCHRP is ensuring that qualified individuals who happen to have a record are not automatically disregarded, while at the same time ensuring that applicants with recent and relevant convictions are indeed well suited to perform in their position.
— Sarah Flamm
Sarah Flamm, Afia Bonner, Jacob Lopez and Charlie Mintz are public policy graduate students at Stanford University.