Clean Slate Clearinghouse Project Leaders Discuss Criminal Record Clearance Reforms in Massachusetts

April 28, 2017

Madeline Neighly and Pauline QuirionIn March, Madeline Neighly (left) of The Council of State Government (CSG) Justice Center and Pauline Quirion (right) of Greater Boston Legal Services—who are both involved in the Clean Slate Clearinghouse Project—participated in a panel discussion about the employment levels of people with criminal records in Massachusetts.

The panel—which was hosted by MassINC, the Massachusetts Bar Association, and the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston (Boston Fed)—discussed findings from two recent studies by the Boston Fed that explored the effects of Massachusetts Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) reforms from 2010 to 2012. The studies found that core elements of the CORI reforms, including “ban the box” provisions—which delay inquiries about an applicant’s criminal history until later in the hiring process—and limits on access to criminal record information on state-produced background checks have resulted in a reduction in recidivism but have not lead to an increase in employment for people with criminal records. In fact, employment levels for people with criminal records in Massachusetts has decreased since the reforms were implemented.

Researchers identified a range of factors that may have contributed to the studies’ findings, including racial discrimination by employers and a willingness among people with criminal records to wait for better employment opportunities. During the panel discussion, Quirion attributed the decrease in employment levels for people with criminal records to the overall decrease in hiring during the Great Recession, some employers’ non-compliance with CORI reforms, and the continued use of background checks from private companies instead of state repositories. She also raised concerns about the methodology of the studies and whether they appropriately captured the intricacies of the populations affected by the CORI reforms.

Neighly discussed the national labor market, where, in many places, there are more open jobs than there are people to fill those jobs. As a result, a growing number of employers—both large and small—are identifying people with criminal records as an untapped resource. Policymakers and business leaders often agree that they want to provide fair access to employment opportunities while addressing employers’ safety and liability concerns, but there is little consensus about how to achieve this, Neighly said. In an effort to help employers and government officials understand and address the challenges associated with putting people with criminal records to work, the CSG Justice Center has supported more than 50 local dialogues across 30 states.

 Read the Boston Fed’s reform studies on recidivism and labor market outcomes.

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