A Criminal Record Does Matter April 11, 2013 Sociology 381 In the article, Mark of a Criminal Record by Devah Pager, the effect that a criminal record has on black and white males is examined. Pager’s goal is to answer whether and to what extent employers use criminal history, whether race plays a role in hiring, and whether there are different results for black applicants than for white applicants when applying for a job. In order to conduct this research Pager uses Audit Methodology. The basic design of this study was to create four different resumes for four different people (testers).
Each tester was an articulate college student who took on one of two roles when applying for a job: an ex convict or someone with no criminal history. Each resume had the same level of qualifications for education and job experience. The two black testers were paired together and the two white testers were paired together. Each tester had one resume and the only difference between the resumes within each group was that one had served prison time for possession of cocaine with intent to distribute.
The first objective of the study was to find out whether and to what extent employers use information about criminal history in making hiring decisions. This was important because in the sample taken by Pager (2003), 27% of employers said they would perform background checks on all applicants. However, the actual number was most likely higher because employers were not required to indicate whether or not they intended to perform background checks (Pager, 2003, p. 953). And although not all employers actually do this, it still implied that, to some degree, a criminal history will affect job opportunities.
One criticism to this type of research was that employers use other characteristics to determine whether or not the applicant will be hired and not the criminal record. This says that the same characteristics that make a person resort to crime happen to overlap with characteristics that make a person an undesirable employee. This objective and study was designed to find out how true that is. It has been found that a criminal record plays a significant role during the hiring process. A criminal record reduced the likelihood of a call back by 50%. 4% of whites without a criminal record received a callback compared to 17% of whites with a criminal background. For one tedious job application for a trucking service, one applicant was told that the job had been filled after the employer reviewed the application. Keep in mind, though, that the applicant had to check with the supervisor several different times during the application process in order to complete the application. The second objective was to find out the extent to which race continues to serve as a major barrier to employment.
This is important because racial inequality is a prevalent issue that has been heavily debated in regards to job opportunities. African Americans have lower rates of employment compared to whites. There is disagreement over the cause of these discriminations. This method of testing is designed to address this question. Recent studies have doubted the importance of race when it comes to the job hiring process. Some recent arguments have stated that other factors such as spatial location, soft skills, social capital, and cognitive ability are to blame rather than race.
This study compares equally qualified black and white applicants who apply for the same job and the frequency each one received call backs. One surprising finding is that out of the black applicants without criminal records, only 14% were called back compared to 34% of white applicants without criminal history. What really makes the results of this audit so surprising is that whites with criminal backgrounds were called back more than blacks without a criminal background at 17% of the time.
Blacks with criminal history were only a little less likely to be called back than their noncriminal counterparts at 14% of the time. The third objective is to assess whether the effect of a criminal record differs for black and white applicants. This is important because criminal history can affect job opportunities and may even be more troublesome depending on the race of the applicant. Effects of criminal records for blacks and whites can be even more detrimental in times of economic hardships.
One employer for a janitorial service said that the company had been extremely short staffed and had to interview virtually every applicant. Now with job scarcity, even the most entry level jobs are able to be more selective about whom they employ. It is important to recognize the possible racial differences in the effects of incarceration. Current literature on racial stereotypes says that “stereotypes are most likely to be activated and reinforced when a target matches on more than one dimension of the stereotype” (Pager, 2003, p. 45). This may make employers, who already have preconceived notions, even more wary with proven past criminal behavior. The results of the study showed that the effect of a criminal record is more pronounced and impacting blacks 40% more than whites. On three separate occasions black testers were asked if they had criminal backgrounds before they submitted their applications. I had a lot of different reactions to this article. Before I read the article I had a couple different assumptions that were correct.
For example, I already figured that a criminal record would affect opportunity for hire and that it would have a bigger impact for blacks than for whites. I was, however, surprised to learn that whites with a criminal history were more often called back than blacks with a clean history. I did not know that there was still such discrimination with the workplace. I was more disturbed by how much a criminal record affected overall employment rather than by how much race played a role. One finding that really bothered me was that there are no limitations as to how far back an employer can go when performing a background check.
Employers may potentially reject an applicant because of a crime committed many years prior or even during adolescents and according to Kurlychek (2007), individuals who have juvenile or early adult records have a lower chance of recidivism. With today’s technology it is even easier to access this information, making it more likely that an employer will look at the background, making the mark of a criminal record even more problematic. Employers are allowed to deny employment if the offense directly relates to the job.
This is vague and the lack of regulation and accountability on the employer’s part makes it easy for them to dismiss an applicant and blame it on other “defects” of character or qualification even though these defects may be completely erroneous. Another part of the results that is shocking is that these testers are articulate college students, and even though they took on criminal personas, are still not being selected. During the study the testers were the “best possible scenario” ex convicts, meaning that each one had some college education and his own transportation.
Each applicant put down his parole officer’s name and had other references. Very rarely did the employer contact any of the references. To me, this means that regardless of how well presented a person is or even if he/she has credible references that are able to atone for his/her character and reliability, a criminal record may destroy any chance a person has for a particular job. One important part of Pager’s study is that the testers were open and upfront about their criminal background.
The part of this which stuck out in my mind was even if the job application did not request criminal information, it was still given. And according to Pager (2003), this reflects real life situations, as it is assumed that most employers will eventually find out; with that being said, these people are being openly labeled as ex convicts. Labels serve as cues to how others respond to an individual and have even been formalized into law so that people who have criminal records face civil disenfranchisement (Kurlychek, 2007, p. 67).
Another aspect of this I found incredibly shocking is that people labeled deviant suffered more setbacks in search of employment than did illegal aliens. I realize there are different types of offending and I believe each one should be treated on a case by case basis, but the fact remains, it is easier for an illegal alien to find employment than some U. S. citizens who are labeled as criminals. “50% of cases, employers were unwilling to consider equally qualified applicants on the basis of their criminal record” (Pager, 2003, p. 956).
I find this statistic to be very unsurprising yet unfair in some circumstances. The fact that half of the employers polled will not even consider an applicant because of a criminal record is absurd, especially, in cases such as the one studied in Pager’s audit. This finding is supported by a study reviewed in Kurlychek’s article: 25 employers received a resume with a criminal history and only one offered the applicant employment (2007, p. 67). Each crime is different, and as I have previously stated, each one should be considered on a case by case basis.
I do not believe that all hope for employment should be abolished due to the criminal record described in Pager’s study. The testers were one time offenders whom otherwise would have been viewed as good candidates for employment. In one study by Cheng, Kim, and Lo (2008), there was a positive correlation between the number of offenses committed in the past and the likelihood of reoffending. Other findings in Kurlychek’s (2007) article state that the majority of one time offenders do not continue to offend and either learn their lesson or grow out of it.
I should add, when an offender forms a positive social tie, such as the one that would be created due to employment, the chances of offending decrease. After reading these articles, the way I view those with criminal records is a little bit different. I am very open-minded, I give people the benefit of the doubt, and I do not believe that a criminal history defines who a person is or their ability to perform certain tasks. Although, each situation needs to be evaluated separately by factors other than the presence of a criminal record.
I think one time offenders should be given more leniency and there should be more focus on the offender’s pattern (or lack thereof) of criminality. The way in which offenders are labeled in society by both written and unwritten law is another aspect I see a little differently. I never realized how difficult it is to escape the stigmatization of being labeled as deviant. This kind of negative label has the ability to haunt people their entire lives, even if their offense can be attributed to one bad decision made while maturing.
References Cheng, T. , Kim, Y. , & Lo, C. (n. d. ). Offense specialization of arrestees. (2008). An Event History Analysis, 54(3), 341-365. doi: 10. 1177/0011128707305746 Kurlychek, M. , Brame, R. , & Bushway, S. (n. d. ). Enduring risk? old criminal records and predictions of future criminal involvement . (2007). Crime & Delinquency , 53(1), 64-83. doi: 10. 1177/0011128706294439 Pager, D. (n. d. ). The mark of a criminal record. (2003). American Journal of Sociology, 108(5), 937-975. doi: 10. 1086/374403