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Volume 6, Issue 1 • Spring 2017

Table of Contents

Editor's Note

Facility Operations and Juvenile Recidivism

Neighborhood Risks and Resources Correlated With Successful
Reentry of Youth Returning from Massachusetts Detention Centers

Girls Leaving Detention: Perceptions of Transition to Home After
Incarceration

An Innovative Use of Conjoint Analysis to Understand
Decision-Making by Juvenile Probation Officers

“I’d Prefer an Applicant Who Doesn’t Have a Delinquency History”:
Delinquents in the Labor Market

Gender Comparisons in the Processes and Outcomes of Functional
Family Therapy

Achieving Juvenile Justice Reforms Through Decision-Making Structures: The Case of Georgia

The Benefits of Community and Juvenile Justice Involvement in
Organizational Research

“I’d Prefer an Applicant Who Doesn’t Have a Delinquency History”: Delinquents in the Labor Market

Melanie Taylor, Department of Criminal Justice, University of Nevada, Reno; Tara Spang, Department of Criminal Justice, University of Nevada, Reno.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Melanie Taylor, 1664 N. Virginia Street, Reno, NV 89557. E-mail: melanietaylor@unr.edu

Keywords: employment, predictors of recidivism, juvenile rehabilitation, racial disparity

Abstract

A criminal record is recognized as a barrier to reentry for former offenders, especially for employment outcomes. Formerly incarcerated black males face the brunt of these outcomes, as they are less likely to be employed and they earn lower wages than whites. What remains unclear is if a delinquency record similarly harms employment outcomes. Recently, protections granted to juveniles have been eroded, as records are less likely to be expunged and court proceedings are increasingly publicized, suggesting that an employer may now be able to consider a juvenile record. In the current study, university students were presented with fictitious resumes indicating either involvement or noninvolvement with the juvenile justice system. Respondents were significantly more likely to grant callbacks to nondelinquent applicants than delinquent applicants; however, there were no significant differences in the likelihood of black and white applicants receiving a callback. Easier access to delinquent records makes it possible to stigmatize applicants with a delinquency history, which may now serve as a new barrier to employment. Findings from the study highlight the importance of preventing employer access to delinquency records. Future research should examine the extent to which employers access and consider juvenile records.

Introduction

Gaining employment is arguably one of the most critical stages in crime desistance, but limited research has examined this experience for job applicants with a delinquency history. As states are increasingly removing delinquency record protections that were once standard in the juvenile justice system (Shah, Fine, & Gullen, 2014), the door is now open for a juvenile’s history to influence employment. As a result, it is critical to determine how employers perceive applicants with a delinquency history: Are they stigmatizing delinquents in a similar manner as adult offenders, or do they view delinquents differently? The current study examines hiring practices of mock employers reviewing fictitious resumes of white and black applicants with and without delinquency histories. Using qualitative and quantitative responses of applicants, the current study examines the perspectives of mock employers when confronted with delinquent applicants.

Gaining Employment on Reentry

Returning offenders face substantial challenges in obtaining employment, as is evidenced by the high percentage of returning offenders who are unemployed in the first year after release (Petersilia, 2001). This is especially true for racial and ethnic minorities, since employers are less likely to grant them interviews or offer employment. In her seminal study of hiring practices regarding returning offenders, Pager (2003) found only 17% of white males with a criminal record received a callback from an employer, versus 34% of white males without a criminal record. In contrast, 5% of black males with a criminal record and 14% of black males without such a record received a callback. These findings suggest that a criminal record is exceedingly harmful for blacks and may prevent them from reaching the background stage in hiring, because employers may assume that all black males have a criminal history (Holzer, Raphael, & Stoll, 2002).

Various factors affect employability following a criminal conviction, including employer stigmatization of convicted criminals; insurance companies restricting the hire of convicted criminals; and lack of education and employment history among returning offenders (Dale, 1976; Krienert & Fleisher, 2004). Returning offenders may also be negatively affected by background checks or online access to criminal records. Finlay (2009) found that in states where criminal history records were publicly available to employers, reentering offenders were less likely to be employed or received lower salaries than non-offenders. Employers may also be cautious in hiring those with criminal histories, since vicarious liability may result in employers being responsible for torts committed by their employees (Snow, 1992). Extensive research demonstrates the detrimental impact of a criminal record on employment, but it remains unclear how delinquency records influence employers.

The Impact of Having a Juvenile Record

It may be assumed that a delinquency history has a minimal effect on employability due to the expungement or sealing of juvenile records, but policy changes nationwide are increasingly eroding the protections once granted in the juvenile justice system. The juvenile justice system was founded on the idea that juveniles are in a transitory period and should not be stigmatized for adolescent behaviors. However, “support for forgiving and forgetting juvenile misconduct ha[s] significantly diminished, while support for governmental and judicial transparency ha[s] significantly increased” (Jacobs, 2013, p. 10). State policies on expungement and sealing vary significantly based on factors such as offense type, delinquency history, and age, as well as the types of documents that are eligible to be sealed (e.g., law enforcement and court records; for an in-depth review of state policies see Shah et al., 2014). Shah and colleagues (2014) reviewed national expungement and confidentiality policies and found that 33 states “allow certain types of juvenile record information to be publicly available” (p. 14), 7 states “give complete public access to juvenile records” (p. 15), the majority of states will release juvenile records to schools, 15 states “limit expungement to court records” (p. 27), and in nearly all states juveniles have to qualify for expungement based on their age. In fact, only 9 states were classified as having full record protection for former juvenile delinquents.

Even when expungement or sealing of records is an option, many juveniles are unprotected for a variety of reasons. First, the financial cost of record expungement is cost prohibitive to many former delinquents. For example, it can cost up to $320 in Illinois to have a juvenile record expunged, a fee that many are unable or unwilling to pay (Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission, 2016). Second, records may not be expunged if the juvenile was prosecuted using a blended sentence in both juvenile and criminal courts (Altschuler & Brash, 2004). A final issue is that confidential records of juveniles may be inappropriately shared by those with legal access to the records, resulting in the release of private information (Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission, 2016).

Fourteen states allow for automatic expungements of delinquency records, but in many states juveniles have to apply for an expungement (Litwok, 2014). In Litwok’s examination of 3 states that require an application to initiate an expungement, the rate of expunged cases ranged from 0.2% to 10%. The financial cost of the process and the inability of juveniles to appreciate the impact of a delinquency history on long-term employment prospects were two suspected factors for the infrequency of juvenile applications.

Fees, along with the aforementioned barriers to expungement, have been considered a reason for the scarcity of expungements. For example, “for every 1,000 juvenile arrests in Illinois, only 3 are expunged” (Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission, 2016, p. 1). In Washington State, “9 in 10 individuals who are estimated to be eligible for sealing still have open records” (Calero, 2013, p. 4). Calero also found that whites and those living in neighborhoods with higher median incomes were the most likely to have their records sealed, suggesting that record sealing is just another example of disproportionate minority contact that has long plagued the juvenile justice system.

As delinquency records are increasingly losing protections, there is now potential for employment discrimination based on actions committed during adolescence. The deleterious impact of a criminal record on employment prospects is well known, yet research has largely failed to consider how a delinquent record may similarly affect employment opportunities. In one of the only studies to test this relationship, Baert and Verhofstadt (2015) conducted a field study in Belgium using two fictitious applications that were sent to employers, one application with a delinquency history and one without. They found applicants who indicated a delinquency history were 22% less likely to receive a callback for employment than nondelinquents. A similar type of study has yet to be conducted in the United States and with non-white applicants, so it remains unclear if this finding would hold true under different conditions.

More extensive research has been conducted on an adult cohort’s history of wages earned when they were juveniles. This research found that involvement with the juvenile justice system is detrimental in adulthood. For example, one study of juvenile delinquents in adulthood found that delinquents had lower socioeconomic index scores (an indicator of income and educational level) than nondelinquents (Tanner, Davies, & O’Grady, 1999). Further research found that being charged in adolescence decreased earnings by 21% (Allgood, Mustard, & Warren, 1999), while incarceration during late adolescence and young adulthood led to an income reduction of 18% per year (Apel & Sweeten, 2010). Related to the current study, Litwok (2014) found that juvenile delinquents in automatic-expungement states had incomes 21% higher than former delinquents living in states requiring an application for expungement.

It was recently argued that the failure to protect juvenile records “harms individuals by hindering their ability to obtain the essential building blocks needed to contribute to society: namely, a stable home, a job, and opportunities for educational advancement” (Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission, 2016, p. 11). However, few empirical studies have demonstrated the validity of these claims. To begin to fill this void, we examined the short-term impacts of delinquency on the hiring process using fictitious job applications.

Methods

The current study examined perceptions and hiring prospects of job candidates with delinquency records. During the spring of 2016, 340 students at the University of Nevada, Reno, were asked to assume the role of an employer and report the likelihood of hiring job applicants based on a job announcement and fictitious resumes. College students have been successfully used in prior employment research and are an appropriate research sample, because they will eventually have a role in hiring applicants for future jobs (Varghese, Hardin, & Bauer, 2009). Of the 340 students, 6 were dropped from the analyses because they did not complete the majority of the survey; the final sample size was 334. After completing a consent form, respondents were presented with a job announcement for an entry-level coffee-server position at a local coffee chain. The advertisement detailed the job’s qualifications and benefits, and a statement indicating the company was an “equal opportunity employer.”

Participants were randomly assigned to review one of four resumes (for examples, see Figure 1 and Figure 2)—a white male with no indication of a delinquency history, a white male with an indication of a delinquency history, a black male with no indication of a delinquency history, and a black male with an indication of a delinquency history. Instead of explicitly stating the race or ethnicity of the applicant, commonly used white and black names were used, with “Tanner Johnson” for a white male and “Darius Jackson” for a black male. Similarly, resumes did not explicitly state if the applicant had a delinquent or nondelinquent background. To indicate a history of delinquency, community and volunteer service were included as part of the “work experience” section. Resumes of delinquent applicants stated, “Washoe County Department of Juvenile Services—Community Service with the Friends of Washoe County Library; Completed mandatory community service to fulfill probation requirements.” In contrast, resumes of nondelinquent applicants stated, “Washoe County Library—Volunteer; Volunteered during high school with Key Club.” The fictitious resumes also included an educational history (i.e., high school diploma and community college courses), entry-level work experience (i.e., a local burger restaurant and an office supply store), a variety of skills applicable to the aforementioned job advertisement, and contact information.

Figure 1. Sample resume of white delinquent juvenile.

Figure 1. Sample resume of white delinquent juvenile.

Figure 2. Sample resume of black nondelinquent juvenile.

Figure 2. Sample resume of black nondelinquent juvenile.After reading the fictitious job advertisement and one randomly selected resume, participants were asked a variety of questions regarding their perceptions of the applicant specifically and hiring practices in general. Respondents were asked how likely they were to call a candidate, how qualified they perceived the candidate to be for the position, how strongly a variety of background factors would affect their decisions to interview in general, and what their own demographic characteristics were. Participants also were asked to describe any concerns they had in hiring an applicant with a delinquency history. Finally, they were asked about their perceptions of the fictitious applicant, including gender, race, and delinquency history, to ensure that they appropriately assumed the applicant type.

A mixed-methods approach was used in the current study. First, t-tests were conducted to determine if there were significant differences in the likelihood of callbacks based on applicant type. Then, an ordinary least-squares regression was performed to predict the likelihood of callback while controlling for factors that were expected to shape perceptions of job applicants, including perceived qualifications of the applicant and demographic characteristics of the respondent. Finally, qualitative responses on perceptions of hiring juvenile delinquents were analyzed. Using the constant comparison method adopted in grounded theory approaches (Glaser & Strauss, 1967), responses were coded line by line and compared between and among participants. Higher-level concepts (i.e., themes) were developed through the process of open coding and theme identification (e.g., observing similarities and differences in responses; identification of linguistic connectors; Ryan & Bernard, 2003).

Results

After respondents read a description of an entry-level job posting and a randomly selected resume, they were asked how likely they would be to call the applicant for a job interview (1 = Very unlikely; 10 = Very likely). The average score for this question was 6.93, indicating that participants were likely to call applicants for a job interview. Participants were also asked to indicate how qualified they believed the job candidate was (1 = Very unqualified; 4 = Highly qualified), with respondents reporting a mean score of 3.03. The average age of the sample was 21.68 years old; 56% were female; and 66% were white, 4% were black, 19% were Hispanic, and 12% were Asian (see Table 1).

Table 1. Demographic Characteristics

Application Viewed

 

White nondelinquent

24.9%

Black nondelinquent

22.5%

White delinquent

25.2%

Black delinquent

27.5%

Perceptions of Applicant

 

Likelihood of calling applicant for interview
(Scale of 1—unlikely to 10—likely)

6.9

Applicant is qualified for the job
(Scale of 1—unqualified to 4—qualified)

3.0

Respondent Demographics

 

White

71.3%

Black

3.9%

Hispanic

18.9%

Asian

12.3%

Other Race/Ethnicity

4.5%

Male

43.7%

Age (Average)

21.7

 

Hiring Based on Race and Delinquency History

When considering the four applicant types, white nondelinquents had the highest callback score (7.45), followed by black nondelinquents (7.29), black delinquents (6.61), and white delinquents (6.42). Following completion of the survey, respondents were asked to report what they believed the applicant’s race and delinquency history were. Seventy-seven percent of respondents were able to correctly identify the delinquency history of the applicant based on the resume, whereas only 59% of applicants were able to correctly assume the race of the applicant based on the resume. To account for this issue, callback scores were analyzed only for respondents who were able to correctly identify the race and delinquency history of the applicant (Figure 3). When examining only respondents who appropriately identified the applicant type, black nondelinquents had slightly higher callback scores (7.76) than white nondelinquents (7.46), followed by black delinquents (6.22) and white delinquents (5.94).

Figure 3. Likelihood of callback based on applicant type.

Figure 3. Likelihood of callback based on applicant type.

In considering only respondents who correctly identified applicant type and race, significant differences in callback scores were found. Table 2 presents the t-tests comparing callback scores for each of the applicant types. T-tests showed that delinquents significantly differed from nondelinquents in likelihood of callback, but that blacks and whites did not have significantly different callback scores. More specifically, white nondelinquents (M = 7.46, SD = 1.81) had a significantly greater likelihood of receiving a callback than both white (M = 5.94, SD = 1.80) (t(102) = 4.06, p < .001) and black delinquents (M = 6.22, SD = 2.24) (t(90) = 2.69, p < .01). Similarly, black nondelinquents (M = 7.76, SD = 1.84) were more likely to receive a callback than white (t(62) = 3.97), p < .01) and black delinquents (t(50) = 2.72, p < .01). In contrast, white delinquents were less likely to be called than both white (t(102) = 4.06, p < .001) and black nondelinquents (t(62) = 3.97, p < .01), while black delinquents had a significantly lower likelihood of being called than white (t(90) = 2.69, p < .01) and black nondelinquents (t(50) = 2.72, p < .01). Notably, black and white delinquents were not significantly different in callback rates, nor were black and white nondelinquents.1

1 Demographic characteristics were examined between respondents who were able to correctly identify the applicant type (i.e., race and delinquency history of applicant) and those who were unable to. With the exception of age of respondents (those who could identify applicant type were slightly older than those who could not), there were no significant differences in any characteristics of applicants (e.g., gender, race, educational level).

Table 2. T-Tests of Likelihood of Callback Based on Applicant Type

Applicant Type

Mean

Standard Deviation

Confidence Interval

T-Value (DF)

White, Nondelinquent/

7.46

1.81

7.03–7.90

4.06(102)*

White, Delinquent

5.94

1.80

5.33–6.56

 

White, Nondelinquent/

7.46

1.81

7.03–7.90

–2.69(90)**

Black, Delinquent

6.22

2.24

5.25–7.18

 

White, Nondelinquent/

7.46

1.81

7.03–7.90

.73(96)

Black, Nondelinquent

7.76

1.84

7.06–8.46

 

White, Delinquent/

5.94

1.80

5.33–6.56

.52(56)

Black, Delinquent

6.22

2.24

5.25–7.18

 

Black, Nondelinquent/

7.76

1.84

7.06–8.46

3.97(62)**

White, Delinquent

5.94

1.80

5.33–6.56

 

Black, Nondelinquent/

7.76

1.84

7.06–8.46

2.72(50)**

Black, Delinquent

6.22

2.24

5.25–7.18

 

*p < .001, **p < .01, ***p < .05

An ordinary least-squares regression was also conducted predicting the likelihood of a respondent calling the applicant for a job (Table 3). No demographic characteristics of respondents were significant (i.e., age, gender, race/ethnicity, personally experienced discrimination in hiring), and neither were most applicant characteristics that were assumed by the respondent (i.e., applicant race, age, and gender). The two factors that significantly influenced likelihood of callback were delinquency history of the applicant and being qualified for the job. More specifically, respondents who believed the applicant was delinquent were less likely to suggest a callback, whereas those who believed the applicant was qualified for the job were more likely to suggest a callback.

Table 3. Ordinary Least-Squares Regression of Likelihood of Calling Applicant for a Job Interview

 

B(SE)

Perceptions of Applicants

 

Juvenile History (Delinquent)

–1.36(.30)*

Race (Black)

.046(.32)

Qualified for Job

3.41(.55)*

Age

.077(.46)

Gender (Female)

0.21(.56)

Respondent Characteristics

 

Age

.056 (.039)

Gender (Female)

.0023(.29)

Race (Black)

 

   White

.14(.37)

   Other

.041(.90)

Ethnicity (Hispanic)

–.097(.39)

Experienced Employment Discrimination

–.022(.41)

Constant

2.87(1.25)**

N

156

Adjusted R2

.28

F Ratio

6.43*

Note. Categories in parentheses are reference groups.
*p <. 001, **p < .05

 

Perspectives on Hiring Juvenile Delinquents

Respondents then described their specific concerns with hiring the fictitious applicant. Of the respondents who believed the applicant was delinquent, 70% stated they were concerned about hiring the applicant because of the delinquency history. Respondents made statements that they would be concerned “that he’d do his job right without breaking any laws,” “whether or not he would bring any legal problems to my business,” “that [he] would go to juvy again,” and “that he has learned his lesson and is ready to work and keep his life on track.”

As prior research has found that a variety of factors influence employment decisions, especially involvement with the criminal justice system, respondents were asked about the degree to which certain factors would generally affect their decision to hire (0 = Would not impact my decision to interview; 10 = Would strongly impact my decision to interview). These factors included if the applicant had a delinquency history (6.95), was currently on parole (8.34), had a criminal history (8.30), was previously fired from a job (7.69), had no high school diploma (7.16), had a gap in work history (5.84), had a limited work history (5.33), or had no college education (4.74). A delinquency history reportedly affected decisions to hire much less than an adult criminal record, being fired from a job, or failing to graduate from high school.

Although the previous question suggested that respondents were less concerned about juvenile delinquency than adult offenses, their qualitative responses about general hiring practices demonstrated a varying degree of concern in hiring a juvenile delinquent. Five major themes were noted in the qualitative responses. First, a few respondents suggested they would be willing to hire a delinquent because they believed in second chances. Typical statements for those who believed in reform included “I feel that everybody deserves a second chance, they may have been young. . . . I would have to listen to everybody’s story and their situation as to why they were delinquent”; “I would take into consideration what had happened. If it is someone who is young, I understand that young people do make mistakes and as long as they are willing to overcome that and change and be a great asset to my team, then I wouldn’t have a problem hiring them”; and “[I would want to know] how are they working to improve their history and themselves to make sure this would not be a problem in the future.” These respondents appeared to believe that juveniles are able to reform in adulthood.

A second theme emerged of alternative employment choices. These respondents made comments such as “although I do not have any specific concerns, I’d prefer an applicant who doesn’t have a delinquency history over one who does”; and “I would not want to hire a delinquent as they have proven in the past to have made poor decisions, I have no evidence that they would not do it again. . . . There are plenty of people who aren’t delinquents [who] I would be more likely to hire.” These respondents thought it would be unnecessary to hire someone with a delinquent record when they could hire a similar applicant without a delinquency history.

The majority of respondents expressed concerns over safety in the workplace if an applicant with a delinquency record were hired. For example, respondents stated, “if they are handling money it would make me nervous and I would be afraid that they will steal from me or maybe that they are not responsible enough to show up to work every day on time”; “I would be concerned that the applicant may damage company property or take company funds based on what type of history he/she has”; and “I would be concerned about their personal values and for the safety of my other staff members.” Participants suggested that crime type would also shape their perceptions of danger presented by the applicant. Respondents made statements such as “it depends on the crime that was committed, but if they happened to have been caught stealing, that would be very concerning . . . property destruction would also be concerning”; “It would depend on the history. . . . If the person got busted for drugs, I would have no problem hiring that applicant at all. . . . If that person had been convicted of rape, I would have some more questions”; and “I would be concerned about the type of crime they committed, for instance if they stole something or committed a violent crime I would be less willing to hire them for fear of a repeat offense in the workplace.” Respondents who expressed concerns over the crime type were most concerned with property-related offenses, which to them seemed to indicate a greater likelihood of reoffending specifically against the employer.

The final theme that emerged was concern about the image of the company. Several respondents stated that hiring a juvenile delinquent would harm the corporate image that employees and customers shared: “I would be concerned they had a bad attitude with me or the customers”; “I do not want to take a chance that this new employee can create aggression and conflict with customers or even co-workers. . . . Since this person has a delinquent history I would be worried about my safety and the safety of the business”; and “the applicant would not be safe to be around customers or the applicant might engage in illegal activity again and jeopardize the company.” Participants also suggested that the company image could be damaged more generally and that hiring former delinquents would be a liability. These respondents made statements such as “the company’s clean and friendly image might be negatively affected by hiring an applicant with a delinquent history”; “I would be concerned with their work ethic and any possible legal trouble I could potentially run into if hiring an applicant with a delinquent history”; and “[there may be potential] liability to the company.” Whereas some participants believed that the image of the company in the eyes of customers would be harmed, others thought that there would be severe legal repercussions over hiring someone with a delinquency history.

Discussion

The current study is an important first step at exploring hiring perceptions of job applicants with a delinquency history in the United States. Findings suggest that mock employers perceived juvenile delinquents negatively when comparing them with nondelinquents and were less likely to suggest delinquents for job interviews. Although other applicant characteristics appeared to be of greater concern to the mock employers (e.g., currently on parole, fired from a prior job), their qualitative responses clearly indicated that a delinquent background was a factor that would negatively shape perceptions of employees. Safety in the workplace and the image of the company were two common concerns expressed by the respondents, suggesting that a delinquency history would be an indicator of persistent offending. If these concerns about stigma do in fact extend to employers in the real world, employers may fail to recognize the transitory nature of juvenile offending—a key reason why expungement and sealing policies were implemented in the first place. Instead, employers who likely have minimal knowledge of delinquency and desistance from crime may unfairly stigmatize applicants with delinquent records as habitual or serious offenders.

These findings have serious implications for the hiring prospects of applicants with a delinquency record for several reasons. Employment is a well-known factor that is critical for crime desistance (Laub & Sampson, 2003; Raphael & Weiman, 2007). Juveniles naturally have less employment experience than adults, so barriers that prevent them from gaining experience potentially delay the acquisition of this social capital. In other words, employment discrimination based on a delinquent record may exacerbate the challenges already faced in the hiring process. Research has also found that labeling juvenile delinquents as criminals negatively affects crime desistance because juveniles will adopt the delinquent labels they seem stuck with (Becker, 1963). Expungement and sealing of records theoretically mitigates the impact of formal labels for adolescents, so the removal of such protections allows for the stigmatization of job applicants bearing a delinquency label.

Research on adult exonerees similarly found that a criminal label was detrimental, as the “failure to expunge was a significant predictor of post-exoneration offending” (Shlosberg, Mandery, West, & Callaghan, 2014, p. 353). The effect of a delinquency label on recidivism is also mediated by employment (Bernburg & Krohn, 2003), a finding that highlights the impact that employment discrimination directed toward former delinquents may have on future offending.

One surprising finding of the current study was that white and black applicants were equally likely to receive a callback. This finding held true for delinquents and nondelinquents alike and when those who were unable to identify race were excluded. Prior studies found that non-white applicants were significantly less likely to receive a callback (Pager, 2003; Pager, Western, & Sugie, 2009; Varghese et al., 2009). There are several possible explanations for this finding. The survey took place in 2016, when extensive media attention was focused on discrimination and bias directed toward blacks, especially regarding blacks being punished in the criminal justice system. This may have translated into a shifting public sentiment on hiring practices, since it may be recognized that in some cases, blacks are unfairly arrested and incarcerated. Research on racial awareness recently found that when awareness of bias increases, racial bias is subsequently reduced (Pope, Price, & Wolfers, 2013). Other research suggests that Millennials believe in the importance of racial equality more so than prior generations (Luckerson, 2015), which may translate into racially neutral responses.

Juveniles have long been acknowledged as less mature, less rational, and having less self-control than adults, characteristics that influence adolescent-limited delinquency. The increased criminalization and punitive responses directed toward juvenile delinquents beginning in the 1980s have increasingly led juveniles to be treated similarly to adults. Recent changes in the media portrayal of juveniles as violent superpredators (Haegerich, Salerno, & Bottoms, 2013) and in policy protections that were once standard in the juvenile system have opened the door to bias and discrimination, potentially harming applicants with a delinquent record. There is growing concern among juvenile justice advocates that as the protection of juvenile delinquency records diminishes, youth with these records may be stigmatized similarly to adults (Shah et al., 2014).

There are several policy implications to be gleaned from the current study. First, it is critical that, in most cases, access to delinquency records is restricted for employers and the public. There is a growing trend nationwide to “ban the box,” where job applicants with felony records are no longer required to report felonies on employment applications because the stigma of a criminal record is now publicly recognized (Henry & Jacobs, 2007). At the same time, states are increasingly removing protections that were once standard for juveniles (Willison, Mears, & Butts, 2017). This outcome conflicts with the primary goal of the juvenile justice system—rehabilitation of delinquents so that they desist from offending in adulthood. On a related note, when juvenile records are published on the Internet, it becomes more difficult to expunge or seal records (Calvert & Bruno, 2010). Caution should be taken in states that allow records to be publicly available online, because it may become unrealistic to expunge records after third-party websites download such information.

Second, expungement and sealing fees for delinquency records should be eliminated nationwide. Prior research suggests that these fees, which may appear nominal, serve as a substantial barrier to many former delinquents (Calero, 2013; Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission, 2016). As a result, juveniles or their parents rarely pay to have records sealed. Recently, recognition that fees are harmful to reentry led to the elimination of sealing fees for delinquent records in the state of California (Selbin & Campos, 2016). For example, before the statewide elimination of fees, the Alameda County Probation Department assessed juvenile fee collection and found that there was “little net financial gain” (Selbin & Campos, 2016, p. 13). In other words, fees are rarely paid, probation departments make little profit, and unsealed records serve as reentry barriers—findings that collectively suggest that charging for this protection is illogical and counterproductive.

Finally, though only a few states have adopted automatic expungement policies, research suggests that adoption of these policies is favorable to reentry (Litwok, 2014). However, these policies are not without limitations. For example, automatic expungements typically only occur after the delinquent has turned a certain age and has not committed any new offenses (Shah et al., 2014). In some cases, the expungement may occur after 10 years. This suggests that the stigmatization of a juvenile record may occur for a decade after the juvenile turns 18, potentially delaying entry into the labor market. Even in states with automatic expungement policies, some records may not be expunged due to the multiple locations where records are stored (Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission, 2016). In Illinois, it is estimated that the majority of juvenile arrests are not protected by automatic expungements, since only cases reported to the Illinois State Police are expunged. Because of the rehabilitative benefits of automatic expungements, policymakers should consider expanding these protections across all states and ensure that they are truly automatic when juveniles turn 18.

As noted, research is beginning to confirm that failing to protect juvenile records has long-term deleterious effects in a former delinquent youth’s adulthood. The increased accessibility of records fueled by the public’s right to know needs to be reconsidered using a cost–benefit analysis approach, since there is growing evidence that availability of records can have long-term effects on employment likelihood for juveniles. In turn, this may then result in recidivism that has clear societal harms.

Limitations and Future Research

There are several limitations to the current study. It is recognized that job applicants would be unlikely to willingly disclose court mandated community service on a resume. However, similar strategies have been used in prior studies of hiring practices regarding felons (Pager, 2003). The decision to include this experience as an indicator of delinquency was made for two reasons. First, it was believed that simply giving respondents the applicant’s delinquency history was too overt and would bias the respondents. The strategy in the current study represented a more realistic experience, closer to what employers face in deciding among job applicants through the relatively limited information presented in resumes. Second, although applicants would be unlikely to indicate a delinquency history on a resume, in cases where records were not expunged, such a history may eventually be revealed through a background check, during which bias may become clear.

The study was also limited because the convenience sample primarily consisted of university students. Although prior employment research has relied on samples of university students (Varghese et al., 2009), students are arguably likely to differ in their hiring decisions compared with actual employers. Students have little investment in granting an interview, so they may be more likely to interview an applicant than an employer who recognizes the time investment in interviewing candidates. The use of a convenience sample in Reno also resulted in a sample of primarily white mock employers. Although in the current study callbacks did not vary based on the race or ethnicity of the mock employer, future research should be conducted with a more diverse sample. blacks were underrepresented in the current study in comparison to the representation of blacks among human resource officers nationally (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2016). Prior research demonstrates that non-white applicants are more likely to be hired by non-white hiring agents (Stoll, Raphael, & Holzer, 2004), suggesting that the black applicants in the current study may have fared even better when being considered by black hiring agents.

Future research is critical in determining two outcomes of background checks—how frequently delinquency histories are revealed through background checks, and how actual employers are affected by this information. One recent study of employer perceptions of hiring delinquents found that employers actually suggested that delinquent applicants reveal a delinquency history to remain “honest” (Pham, Unruh, & Waintrup, 2015). Pham and colleagues found “very few employers were aware of or showed a regard for juvenile confidentiality laws” (p. 118), since 62% of employers said that juveniles should disclose a delinquency history, while only 11% said a disclosure was unnecessary.

When considering the findings of the current study, it is apparent that employers want to know about delinquency histories and may make hiring decisions partially based on this information. As expungement and sealing protections for juveniles are increasingly eroded across the United States, it is critical that future research examines responses of actual employers when they are confronted with applicants who have delinquency histories.

About the Authors

Melanie Taylor, PhD, is an assistant professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at the University of Nevada, Reno. She received a doctorate in criminology and criminal justice from Arizona State University. She previously was employed as a deputy juvenile correctional officer with the Orange County Probation Department. Her current research interests include abuses in correctional facilities, civil rights of inmates, juvenile detention, juvenile delinquency, and the long-term outcomes of system-involved youth.

Tara Spang, MA, is a forensic specialist for the state of Nevada. She received her master’s and bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice from the University of Nevada, Reno. Her current research interests include juvenile delinquency, using animals in police work, and the relationship between mental health and criminal justice.

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