Does Changing Employers’ Access to Criminal Histories Affect Ex-Offenders’ Recidivism? Evidence from the 2010–2012 Massachusetts CORI Reform
In 2006, the U.S. Justice Department estimated that about 30 percent of all adults living in the United States had a criminal record. A 2014 report from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics found that of all the ex-offenders released from state prisons in 2005, 67.8 percent were arrested for a new offense within three years, and 76.6 percent were arrested again within five years. Even in Massachusetts, a state that has a relatively low incarceration rate, about 60 percent of all individuals released from county jails or state prisons are convicted of new charges within six years. These high recidivism rates may be partly explained by the difficulties ex-offenders, particularly those who served time behind bars for more serious crimes, may face when seeking legal employment. Employers reject many job applicants who have criminal records, so if no viable employment opportunities exist, ex-offenders may revert to criminal activity. Public policy initiatives aimed at improving employment outcomes for ex-offenders, such as the 2010–2012 Massachusetts Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) Reform, may have a positive effect on reducing recidivism rates. In November 2010, as the first step of the Massachusetts CORI Reform, employers were prohibited from asking about an individual's criminal history on an initial job application (a reform known as "ban the box"). The second step of the reform in May 2012 changed who can access the state's CORI database, enacted limits on the information that can be obtained, and imposed a time limit regarding how long misdemeanor and felony convictions will be reported on standard employer requests (a reform we call the "record-access" reform). This paper examines whether the Massachusetts CORI Reform helped to lower recidivism rates for affected ex-offenders.