Ban the Box

Evidence Rating  
Evidence rating: Mixed Evidence

Strategies with this rating have been tested more than once and results are inconsistent or trend negative; further research is needed to confirm effects.

Health Factors  
Decision Makers
Date last updated

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 employers1. BTB can also be implemented voluntarily by private sector employers2. 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 alone3. A majority of Americans are asked about their criminal record during the hiring process, usually on an initial application form4.

What could this strategy improve?

Expected Benefits

Our evidence rating is based on the likelihood of achieving these outcomes:

  • Increased employment

Potential Benefits

Our evidence rating is not based on these outcomes, but these benefits may also be possible:

  • Reduced recidivism

What does the research say about 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 crime5; local evaluations of public sector policies in Washington, D.C. and Durham County, NC show increases in the percentage of individuals with criminal records hired following implementation, though other factors may explain increases2. 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 records6. 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 records7.

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 levels8. 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 neighborhoods9. 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 implementation5.

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 records10. Studies of Hawaii’s comprehensive BTB law and the Massachusetts’ CORI Reform suggest such laws may also reduce recidivism6, 11

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 records2. Experts also suggest combining limits on criminal record questions with reductions in liability of negligent hiring to provide protection to employers with liability concerns1, and implementing BTB in college admissions processes, given evidence that increasing access to education appears to reduce subsequent criminal behavior12.

How could this strategy impact health disparities? This strategy is rated 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 U.S. population lives in a jurisdiction covered by BTB. Ten states and 16 localities have laws that also include private employers13. Many large private employers, such as Walmart, Target, and Home Depot, have voluntarily adopted BTB, along with some hospitals2.

Some university and housing applications have also adapted BTB2.

Implementation Resources

AIC-Ban the Box - All-In Cities, an Initiative of PolicyLink. 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.


* Journal subscription may be required for access.

1 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.

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

3 CBPP-Emsellem 2015 - Emsellem M, Ziedenberg J. Strategies for full employment through reform of the criminal justice system. Center on Budget and Policy Priorites (CBPP); 2015.

4 Denver 2017 - Denver M, Pickett JT, Bushway SD. Criminal records and employment: A survey of experiences and attitudes in the United States. Justice Quarterly. 2017.

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

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

7 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.

8 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.

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

10 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.

11 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.

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

13 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.