Jan 6, 2022
Criminal background checks screen people for myriad opportunities, including employment. The authors propose the reset principle, which anchors recidivism risk assessments at the time of the background check to account for a person's time in the community since their last interaction with the criminal justice system. This differs from recidivism risk assessments in the criminal justice context, which are anchored at the time of conviction.
Criminal background checks are commonly used in the United States to screen people for various opportunities, including employment. The evaluations operate on a broadly accepted assumption that past behavior is a good predictor of future behavior.
Contrary to popular belief, however, most who enter the criminal justice system ultimately desist from crime. The risk of recidivism declines the longer a person is in the community and does not commit a crime. Eventually, a past criminal record is no longer predictive of future convictions.
However, most background checks do not adequately account for the time someone spends in the community without a new conviction. Not having updated information may skew the risk assessment to make people look riskier than they are, resulting in denied opportunities.
The authors describe how background checks can be improved to include information about time spent in the community, thereby more accurately reflecting risk of recidivism. They suggest that any viable risk-assessment instrument used in background checks should reset the assessment of recidivism risk to the time of the background check and not the time of conviction, as current methods derived from the criminal justice context do. The authors call this the reset principle. If models based on the reset principle are developed into tools that employers and others can use to assess recidivism risk, they may offer a more accurate way to distinguish candidates' risk of recidivism. Thus, they may offer many with criminal histories a way to demonstrate that they should be offered another chance.
Legal Context for Criminal History Checks at Hiring
The Reset Principle for Background Checks
Considerations for Building Recidivism Prediction Models That Follow the Reset Principle
A Risk-Prediction Model That Follows the Reset Principle
Providing Another Chance: The Reset Principle's Implications for Policy
Additional Data Considerations
More on Survival Analysis
Description of Data Used for Modeling