There is no dispute that far too many Americans carry the burden of a criminal record — at least 70 million, by recent estimates — or that the easy accessibility of these records in the information age imposes debilitating obstacles, especially when it comes to finding a job.
The harder question is what to do about it.
Employment is, after all, an important factor in keeping people out of the criminal justice system, yet, in a struggling job market, employers are often tempted to turn away anyone who appears to pose even the slightest risk. Thanks to the proliferation of companies offering instant online background checks, a vast majority of employers now run such checks on all job applicants. They can, and do, refuse to hire people on the grounds of an arrest itself — let alone a conviction.
People with criminal records often face all manner of entrenched and unjustified prejudice. Studies have found that job applicants who reported having a criminal record were 50 percent less likely to receive a callback or job offer. And, as with virtually every part of the criminal justice system, the effect was more pronounced when the job candidate was black.