Ban the Box

Ban the Box (BTB) laws prevent employers from including questions about criminal history on job applications and postpone criminal background checks. Current laws allow employers to conduct background checks at various times, ranging from after the first interview to after a conditional offer of employment. BTB laws usually apply to public sector employers, although some states’ laws also include private sector employers (). BTB can also be implemented voluntarily by private sector employers (Urban-Stacy 2017). BTB is a component of fair chance hiring protections, a set of principles designed to give applicants with criminal records the opportunity to be evaluated based on their qualifications, not their criminal records alone (CBPP-Emsellem 2015). A majority of Americans are asked about their criminal record during the hiring process, usually on an initial application form ().

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Increased employment

Other Potential Beneficial Outcomes

  • Reduced recidivism

Evidence of Effectiveness

There is mixed evidence about the effects of Ban the Box (BTB) laws on employment for individuals with criminal convictions. A study of public sector Ban the Box laws nationwide suggests increases in the likelihood of public sector employment for individuals previously convicted of a crime (Craigie 2017); local evaluations of public sector policies in Washington DC and Durham County, NC show increases in the percentage of individuals with criminal records hired following implementation, though other factors may explain increases (Urban-Stacy 2017). However, Massachusetts’ Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) Reform, which includes both a BTB provision and record access reform for public and private employers, appears to have led to reductions in employment of individuals with criminal records (Jackson 2017). An audit study in New York and New Jersey suggests that BTB may increase employer call backs to individuals with criminal records; however, there were significant decreases in call backs to black men without criminal records, offsetting any gains to black men with records ().

Studies also suggest effects for individuals without records. A nationwide study assessing existing BTB laws, which apply mainly to public employers but include some that apply to private employers as well, suggest they may increase employment among older black men without a college degree and younger black women with a college degree, but may also decrease hiring among young minority men with low skill levels (Doleac 2017). A study of similar scope suggests BTB appears to increase employment of residents of high crime neighborhoods, particularly black men with low skill levels, but may decrease employment among women in those neighborhoods (Shoag 2016). A nationwide study, which exclusively examines public sector BTB laws, indicates no change in the likelihood of public sector employment of young, low-skilled minority males following BTB implementation (Craigie 2017).

Overall, additional evidence is needed to confirm effects for individuals with criminal convictions and for minorities without criminal convictions who may be harmed by BTB efforts. An older study suggests that employers who conduct background checks appear more likely to hire black men than employers that do not, particularly employers averse to hiring individuals with criminal records (). Studies of Hawaii’s comprehensive BTB law and the Massachusetts’ CORI Reform suggest such laws may also reduce recidivism (Jackson 2017, ). 

Researchers suggest that requiring job applications to be name and address blind, increasing regulation against equal employment violators, outreach to employers and individuals with records about BTB, and expungement of criminal record history may help avoid potential unintended consequences for young minority men without criminal records (Urban-Stacy 2017). Experts also suggest combining limits on criminal record questions with reductions in liability of negligent hiring to provide protection to employers with liability concerns (), and implementing BTB in college admissions processes, given evidence that increasing access to education appears to reduce subsequent criminal behavior (Brookings-Scott-Clayton 2017).

Impact on Disparities

No impact on disparities likely

Implementation Examples

As of 2018, 30 states and 190 local city and county governments have passed Ban the Box (BTB) legislation, and over two-thirds of the US population lives in a jurisdiction covered by BTB. Ten states and 16 localities have laws that also include private employers (NELP-Avery 2018). Many large private employers, such as Walmart, Target, and Home Depot, have voluntarily adopted BTB, along with some hospitals (Urban-Stacy 2017).

Some university and housing applications have also adapted BTB (Urban-Stacy 2017).

Implementation Resources

AIC-Ban the Box - All-In Cities. Policy toolkit: Ban the box/fair chance hiring.

NELP-Rodriguez 2015 - Rodriguez MN, Christman A. Fair chance - Ban the Box toolkit: Opening job opportunities for people with records. New York, NY: National Employment Law Project (NELP); 2015.

NELP-Rodriguez 2015 - Rodriguez MN. Best practices and model policies: Creating a fair chance policy. New York, NY: National Employment Law Project (NELP); 2015.

Citations - Evidence

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

Urban-Stacy 2017 - Stacy C, Cohen M. Ban the box and racial discrimination: A review of the evidence and policy recommendations. Washington, DC: Urban Institute; 2017.

Agan 2018* - Agan A, Starr S. Ban the box, criminal records, and racial discrimination: A field experiment. The Quarterly Journal of Economics. 2018;133(1):191-235.

Holzer 2006* - Holzer HJ, Raphael S, Stoll MA. Perceived criminality, criminal background checks, and the racial hiring practices of employers. The Journal of Law and Economics. 2006;49(2):451-480.

Shoag 2016 - Shoag D, Veuger S. No woman no crime: Ban the box, employment, and upskilling. Harvard Kennedy School. 2016: Working Paper 16-015.

Jackson 2017 - Jackson O, Sullivan R, Zhao B. Reintegrating the ex-offender population in the US labor market: Lessons from the CORI reform in Massachusetts. New England Public Policy Center, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. 2017: Research report 17-1.

Doleac 2017 - Doleac JL, Hansen B. Does “ban the box” help or hurt low-skilled workers? Statistical discrimination and employment outcomes when criminal histories are hidden. 2017.

D’Alessio 2015* - D’Alessio SJ, Stolzenberg L, Flexon JL. The effect of Hawaii’s ban the box law on repeat offending. American Journal of Criminal Justice. 2015;40(2):336-352.

Craigie 2017 - Craigie TAL. Ban the box, convictions, and public sector employment. 2017.

Brookings-Scott-Clayton 2017 - Scott-Clayton J. Thinking 'beyond the box': The use of criminal record in college admissions. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution; 2017.

Agan 2017* - Agan A. Increasing employment of people with records: Policy challenges in the era of ban the box. Criminology & Public Policy. 2017;16(1):177-185.

Citations - Implementation Examples

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

NELP-Avery 2018 - Avery B, Hernandez P. Ban the box: U.S. cities, counties, and states adopt fair-chance policies to advance employment opportunities for people with past convictions. New York, NY: National Employment Law Project (NELP); 2018.

Urban-Stacy 2017 - Stacy C, Cohen M. Ban the box and racial discrimination: A review of the evidence and policy recommendations. Washington, DC: Urban Institute; 2017.

Date Last Updated

Sep 18, 2018