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.
- In Massachusetts, the ban the box reform reduced the probability of recidivism by 11 percent, even when factors affecting recidivism, like an ex-offender's age, gender, race/ethnicity, and local labor market conditions, are taken into account. This decline means that the ban the box provision was responsible for about an 8 percent decline in the three-year reconviction rate.
- The record-access reform reduced the probability of recidivism by approximately 10 percent, even after all other influencing factors are taken into account. This decline means that the record-access reform in Massachusetts reduced the three-year reconviction rate by about 7 percent.
- Further analysis shows that the CORI Reform significantly increased the amount of time that an ex-offender goes without committing a new crime. On average, the ban the box reform resulted in a 7-year increase (27 quarters) in the amount of time since an individual's most recent prior conviction record, while the record-access reform increased by four years (17 quarters) the time since the last conviction record was obtained.
These findings, based on data from Massachusetts, are potentially generalizable to other low-incarceration states. The overall results are particularly relevant for the ongoing discussion in Massachusetts and the rest of the country regarding criminal justice reform in the United States and have important implications for how legislation pertaining to criminal history access should be structured.
This paper examines how changes in employers' access to job applicants' criminal histories affect ex-offender recidivism. We use extensive state administrative data on individual criminal histories spanning the 2010–2012 Massachusetts Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) Reform, widely regarded as landmark legislation governing access to individuals' criminal information. The CORI Reform: i) banned inquiring about criminal history on initial job applications, and ii) broadened the list of groups eligible to use the state's criminal records repository while simultaneously restricting the scope of record access. Using survival analysis and panel regressions, we generally find small reductions in recidivism resulting from each component of the CORI Reform.