By Kevin Johnson, USA TODAY
A study funded by the Justice Department concludes that over time accused robbers, burglars and batterers pose no greater risk to employers than job candidates in the general population.
In a review of 88,000 arrestees in New York state, Carnegie Mellon University investigators found, for example, that after about 7 1/2 years the “hazard rate” for an 18-year-old first-time arrestee for robbery declined to the same rate as an 18-year-old in the general population. For 18-year-olds arrested for aggravated assault, it took about four years to reduce the risk.
Hazard rates are calculated based on the time the suspect remains free from re-arrest. The calculation also accounts for the fact that risk of arrest generally declines with age.
“We believe that our analysis provides the criminal justice community with the first scientific method for estimating how long is long enough for someone with a prior record” to no longer be considered a special risk, according to the study authored by Carnegie Mellon criminologist Alfred Blumstein.
Blumstein and other criminal justice analysts say the ongoing research could ease employers’ concerns about hiring former offenders and perhaps spark new legislative proposals to limit the liability for employers who do hire them.
With more than 600,000 people expected to be released from prisons this year and entering the turbulent U.S. labor market, some criminal justice analysts say the research marks an important step to changing the perception that the criminal justice system is a revolving door.
“This attempts to answer the question of when a person can break that cycle (of crime),” says George Mason University criminologist Faye Taxman. Blumstein says “redemption” for prior offenders has become increasingly difficult as potential employers demand more background checks. The Society for Human Resource Management estimates that 80% of U.S. employers perform background checks. An estimated 74 million criminal records were contained in automated databases across the U.S., according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
“Computerized criminal records can have long memories, and this (study) is intended to provide guidance for imposing some limits to that memory,” Blumstein says.
The study focused on three offenses — robbery, burglary and aggravated assault — because they represented some of the largest sample numbers. Murder was not included in the report and will not be part of future reports, because, Blumstein says, “nobody fully redeems a murderer.”
“People are finally starting to get it. They would rather see people working, than to shut people out,” says Veronica Ballard, a vice president of the Safer Foundation, which helps ex-offenders find work. Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill., a sponsor of the Second Chance Act legislation designed to re-integrate offenders back into society, says any measure that might encourage potential employers to hire ex-offenders is a “powerful” tool.