“Ban the box” laws fail to achieve their goals, notes the Cato Institute’s Walter Olson. Indeed, a recent study shows they increase the crime rate and racial discrimination in hiring, while failing to increase employment among ex-offenders.
But many lawmakers aren’t aware of this. Congress recently enacted the Fair Chance Act, which restricts federal contractors from asking applicants about criminal records until after a conditional job offer is made. It did so even though labor-law experts like Peter Van Doren had publicly cited research showing that ban-the-box laws don’t work as intended.
As Olson notes,
A series of economic studies up to now has found not only a lack of statistical evidence for a positive effect from these laws, but even signs of a negative effect on the employment of young black men with no criminal records (because some employers will assume the worst if not allowed to ask; more from economist Jennifer Doleac of Texas A&M here and here). Despite this track record the laws have remained popular…The unpromising outcomes have not deterred…city and state governments from extending such laws to private employers, often in onerous ways.
Economist Ryan Sherrard recently studied another area affected by ban-the-box laws, recidivism. Supporters of ban-the-box laws regularly predict, and cite as a key benefit, that ban-the-box laws will reduce re‐offense rates. But there is no such benefit. Sherrard’s research found no such effect from ban-the-box (“BTB”) laws. As he summarized his conclusions:
Using administrative prison data, this paper examines the direct effect of BTB policies on rates of criminal recidivism. I find that while BTB policies don’t appear to reduce criminal recidivism overall, these policies may be exacerbating racial disparities. In particular, I show that being released into a labor market with a BTB policy is associated with higher rates of recidivism for black ex‐offenders, with little to no effect for white ex‐offenders.
Such research may not deter lawmakers from continuing to pass ban-the-box laws. For example, Oakland, California, just banned landlords from asking about an applicant’s criminal history, or rejecting applicants based on a criminal conviction.