State-Mandated Criminal Background Employment Screening: A High Stakes Window into the Desistance Process

Shawn Bushway (PI) and Megan Kurlychek (Co-PI)

Project Description

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently used “redemption” research to revise their guidance to employers on the use of criminal history records.  This line of research aims to identify the risk posed by an individual with a criminal record as compared to that of an individual without a criminal record, and when, if ever, these risks are the same.  The proper measurement of risk in this context has high stakes, both from the employer’s perspective (making well-informed hiring decisions) and for prospective employees (since employment could facilitate the desistance process).  The implications for prospective employees are particularly relevant for minority applicants, who are disproportionately more likely to have criminal records than whites.

In this project, funded by the National Institute of Justice, we will explore how the NY Department of Health (DOH) makes decisions about the suitability of individuals with criminal history records for employment in the long term care industry.  The New York State Department of Health (DOH) does lifetime, nationwide, criminal history record checks on the approximately 75,000 new applicants each year who are provisionally hired into this industry.  The result is an unprecedented data set that will allow us to study desistance by looking at both past histories of offending and new arrests over the life-course for a large sample of job-seekers.

Using this dataset, which will be augmented with rapsheet data from the FBI and the NY Department of Criminal Justice Services, we will provide guidance to employers on the best use of criminal history record information in employment decisions.  Specifically, we will accomplish the following objectives:

  • Identify desisters at the time of job application and study desistance separately by gender and race.
  • Examine whether information on the evidence of rehabilitation provided by a subset of applicants originally denied employment is predictive of future offending.
  • Identify the baseline rate of offending (arrest) for individuals without criminal history records.
  • Analyze the power of sealed records to increase employment and aid in the desistance process.  The results of this research will be disseminated to the NY Sentencing Commission (Bushway is a member), which is very interested in the efficacy of record sealing.
  • Examine the causal impact of work on arrest for this sample using propensity score models of employment.  We are seeking access to NY Department of Labor data that will allow us to write an academic paper on both offending and employment outcomes.     

Sponsoring Agency

National Institute of Justice, Total Costs ($700,000)

Project Staff

Megan Denver
Chris Cutler

Contact Information

Name:            Shawn Bushway                     Megan Kurlychek
Telephone:     (518) 591-8738                     (518) 591-8736

Fax:               (518) 442-5603

Write:            DOH Recidivism Project
                     C/O Shawn Bushway
                     Hindelang Criminal Justice Research Center
                     University at Albany, SUNY
                     135 Western Avenue, DR-241
                     Albany, NY 12222