Brookings, AEI Issue Essays on Second Chances and Incorrect Assumptions about Background Checks

Last month, to coincide with Second Chances Month, the Brookings-AEI Working Group on Criminal Justice Reform issued a report, A better path forward for criminal justice: Training and employment for correctional populations.  Brookings and AEI are often at opposite ends of the political spectrum, but they teamed up to create a working group for thought leadership to create a

’down payment’ on the policy debate America needs right now to continue moving toward a criminal justice system—police, courts, prison, reentry, community supervision—that is focused on the safety, health, and well-being of communities rather than on maintaining a harsh, semi-militarized revolving door system from which, for too many, there is often no escape.

The joint Brookings-AEI project contains seven essays “with guidance in major areas of criminal justice reform:” Police Reform, Reimagining Pretrial and Sentencing, Changing Prisons to Help People Change, Reconsidering Police in Schools, Fostering Desistance, Training and Employment for Correctional Populations, and Prisoner Reentry

The essay on reentry was authored by Annelies Goger, David J. Harding, and Howard Henderson.  Among the recommendations listed are “end[ing] restrictions on occupational licensing, safety net programs, and hiring for those with criminal records” and “enhance oversight and regulation of the criminal background check industry.”  As we know, the background check industry operates with a high degree of accuracy and regulation already.

The essay seeks solutions to end “[t]he stigma of a criminal record [as] one of the most important and well-documented barriers to successful reentry and reintegration…”  The EEOC guidelines are helpful, the essay suggests, but “many employers are unaware of these guidelines, necessitating greater education and enforcement.”   The essay adds that ban-the-box laws may be “the most common policy to counter criminal record stigma in employment, have been shown to increase racial discrimination.”

The essay expands on its recommendations by

  • Ending restrictions on living in publicly subsidized housing for those with criminal records
  • Expanding the authority and budget of the EEOC to combat discrimination based on criminal record in employment and housing.
  • Reforming negligent-hiring laws that make employers hesitant to hire those with criminal records.
  • Removing blanket bans on applicants with criminal records should be prohibited. Ensure that local and state governments are in compliance.
  • Appointing a blue ribbon commission to study and recommend reducing occupational licensing prohibitions, which are widespread and poorly justified.
  • Enhance regulation of the criminal background check industry, as the consumer credit agencies are regulated, to improve the rights of individuals to correct information and to hold sellers of criminal record information responsible for its accuracy. [citing Bushway, Shawn; Shauna Briggs, Faye Taxman, Meridith Thanner, and Mischelle Van Brakle. “Private Providers of Criminal History Records: Do You Get What You Pay For?” in Bushway, Shawn, Michael Stoll, and David Weiman (eds.) The Impact of Incarceration on Labor Market Outcomes. Russell Sage Foundation Press, 2007, p. 174–200.].

The essay adds a note for future research.  “As new background search techniques are deployed with machine learning technologies, research is needed to assess their ethical and discriminatory impacts, and to develop regulatory standards for their use. More research and funding are needed to evaluate these technologies, assess quality and ethical use, and update policy in response.”