Jobs and Criminal Records

A man sitting at a desk gesturing towards a woman

Photo by JGI / Getty Images

An estimated 64.6 million Americans (25 percent of the population) have a criminal record; of those, 19.8 million have at least one felony criminal conviction. This has far-reaching economic consequences for the United States, in large part because people with criminal records face more barriers to being hired than other marginalized groups. RAND researchers are studying ways of addressing employment and income needs for people with criminal records.

Connecting Probationers to High-Wage Jobs

Given the labor market challenges faced by people with criminal convictions, it can be challenging for probation agencies to help their clients find jobs, let alone earn living wages. This report summarizes findings from a descriptive case study of one program focused on the construction industry intended to improve the earning potential of individuals on probation in Sacramento County, California.

Key Findings

  • The program develops relationships with service providers and local employers to ensure that probationers have access to a full range of support.
  • The program maintains a positive reputation with prospective employers to ensure ongoing job opportunities.
  • Highly skilled instructors and dedicated staff allow for customized instruction and readily available support.
  • Supplies and ancillary support are provided for probationers, who might not be able to afford the necessary materials.
  • Program champions are used to help recruit, retain, and inspire students.
  • Those in charge of recruitment and enrollment target probationers who are willing to invest in the program.
  • It is crucial to select a "felon-friendly" career field that levels the playing field for probationers.

Read the Full Report

More Research

Incentivizing Employers to Hire Ex-Offenders

Because of the economic implications of having a criminal record, federal, state and local officials have developed a range of policies to encourage employers to hire ex-offenders, with varying degrees of success. To inform policies and programs aimed at improving employment rates for ex-offenders, RAND researchers examined employer preferences regarding policy options aimed at providing incentives to hiring individuals with one nonviolent felony conviction.

To predict the hiring behavior of employers, we conducted a discrete choice experiment, a quantitative method in which people are asked to state their preferences regarding hypothetical goods or services—or, in this case, policies.

Key Findings

  • Given a choice between a job candidate with an increased tax credit (from a maximum of $2,500 to $5,000) or validated previous work performance, employers are 24 percent more likely to choose the candidate with validated work performance history.
  • Employers were 69 percent more likely to consider hiring an ex-felon if they were referred by an agency with a guarantee replacement program.
  • Doubling a staffing agency fee discount increased the likelihood that employers considered hiring an ex-felon by 39 percent.
  • Employers were 53 percent more likely to consider hiring someone with a post-conviction certificate verifying their previous work performance.
  • Having consistent transportation provided by a staffing agency increased the likelihood of being considered for hire by 33 percent.
  • Employers' top-cited concern was "any violent felony conviction," chosen as most important issue by 53.3 percent of respondents.