Key Research on Hiring People With Criminal Histories

Mistaken assumptions about people with criminal history records may keep employers and policymakers from making informed decisions about whether to offer them a chance to enter the workforce. RAND researchers have built a body of evidence that busts many prevailing myths about people with criminal history records. These six findings may help employers and others make more informed decisions about whether to offer them another chance.

People with convictions form a large pool of people looking for work

  • 46 percent of 35-year-old men looking for work in 2018 had a conviction for a non-traffic crime as an adult. That proportion varies only slightly by race and ethnicity.1
  • Among 33-year-old women, the percent of those looking for work in 2018 who had a conviction for a non-traffic offense was a range of between 2 percent and 16 percent for Black women, and a range of between 22 percent and 52 percent for white women.1
  • Many of the people working in 2018 have at least one adult conviction for a non-traffic offense (25% for men).1

People change: Most people with a conviction only have one conviction

  • Most people with a conviction have only one conviction.2
  • Most criminal activity occurs when people are young.3
  • Employers should remember that those without records also have a risk of conviction.4
  • After a relatively short time in the community, a person with a conviction’s risk of committing another crime can mirror the risk levels of people in the population without a conviction.2
  • Members of younger generations (millennials and generation Z) have much lower rates of conviction and incarceration than members of generation X. As a result, the prevalence of criminal history records is declining in the labor market.5

Crime type is an unreliable predictor of risk of future offenses

  • Knowing the type of crime committed in the past tells us little about type of the crime that a person will commit in the future — or the likelihood that they will commit any crime in the future.4
  • Most people who offend do not specialize in a crime type.4

These are more reliable predictors of future behaviors: Time since last conviction, age, number of convictions

  • The single most reliable factor in predicting future behavior is time since last conviction.2
  • The other two most important factors are age and number of prior convictions.2

Believe your eyes if you have a good employee who has a record; performance, training, or testimonials are strong indicators of future behavior

  • First-hand information on good performance in jobs or training programs is more predictive of low risk of re-offending than most other factors employers could consider.4

Many employers are willing to hire people with criminal histories — and incentives work

  • Incentives like wage subsidies and insurance can increase employers’ willingness to hire people with convictions.6
  • Incentives can be justified because hiring people with records creates positive externalities for society.4


  1. Bushway, Shawn D., Irineo Cabreros, Jessica Welburn Paige, Daniel Schwam, and Jeffrey B. Wenger, 2022, Barred from employment: More than half of unemployed men in their 30s had a criminal history of arrest, Science Advances 8(7):

  2. Bushway, Shawn D., Brian G. Vegetabile, Nidhi Kalra, Lee Remi, and Greg Baumann, Providing Another Chance: Resetting Recidivism Risk in Criminal Background Checks, RAND, 2022:

  3. Bjerk, David D B, Bushway, Shawn D., 2022, The Long-Term Incarceration Consequences of Coming-of-Age in a Crime Boom, Journal of Quantitative Criminology. Published online October 2, 2022:

  4. Bushway, Shawn D. and Nidhi Kalra, 2021, A Policy Review of Employers’ Open Access to Conviction Records, Annual Review of Criminology, 4:165-189:

  5. Shen, Yinzi, Bushway, Shawn D., Sorenson, Lucy C., Smith, Herbert L., 2020, Locking Up My Generation: Cohort Differences in Prison Spells Over the Life Course, Criminology 58(4):

  6. Hunt, Priscillia, Rosanna Smart, Lisa Jonsson, and Flavia Tsang, Breaking Down Barriers: Experiments into Policies That Might Incentivize Employers to Hire Ex-Offenders, RAND, 2018: