Ex Offenders In The Search For Legitimate Employment Criminology Essay

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his research will delve into and examine the many barriers ex-offenders face while searching for legitimate employment. There are a wide variety of problems and barriers that face ex-offenders once released into the community. With such large amounts of ex-offenders being released every year, employment is essential in avoiding recidivism as this is not just an issue for the offender, but everyone in the community. However, research has shown that there are significant barriers faced by ex-offenders in the employment field, including background checks, job opportunities, and race. All of these barriers negatively affect an ex-offender's ability to find legitimate employment.

This research will utilize a quantitative research study to examine the existence of differential hiring practices for Native Hawaiians with a criminal record, as compared to other races with a criminal record currently residing in Hawaii. It is hoped that this research study will help improve issues such as blatant discrimination and thus help bring about policy change and awareness.


There are an estimated 2,186,230 individuals incarcerated in various prison levels around the country (Shivy, Wu, Moon, Mann, Holland & Eacho, 2007; Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2001), and more than 16 million ex-offenders in American society which is a staggering 7.5% of the entire population (Pogarsky, 2006; Uggen et al., 2006). This shocking number is being fueled by a tougher stance on crime (Western, Kling, & Weiman, 2001) as society and the prison system have deviated from the idea of rehabilitation in the last 50 years toward one of punishment (Lehrer, 2003). The increased number of incarcerations correlates directly to an increased prison size which means that in any given year an estimated 650,000 prisoners are released (Shivy et al., 2007). This may seem like a small number, but in reality 93% of the total inmate population in the United States will eventually be released back into our communities (Lehrer, 2003). If there is any chance of ex-offenders staying out of trouble and becoming productive members of society, they need to first and foremost be able find steady and legitimate employment.

It has been said by numerous researchers in the criminal justice and correctional field that legitimate employment is essential in preventing ventures back to a life of crime (Pettit & Lyons, 2009; Sampson & Laub, 1993). Not only does having legitimate employment help alleviate financial dependency, it also helps curtail illegal behavior as well as build self-confidence and esteem (Pogarsky, 2006) which may have been lost during incarceration. If an ex-offender is unable to find legitimate employment, there is no reason or incentive to go the straight and narrow which will then cause their problems to become ours. The problems that these ex-offenders face are now compounded even more with the depressed economy and limited number of jobs. The barriers faced by ex-offenders are a significant problem yet many choose to ignore these individuals as the stigma of incarceration seems to be associated negatively with employment (Western et al., 2001).

This paper will discuss employment barriers such as work opportunities, age, wages and criminal background checks as they have such a profound effect not only on the ex-offender, but on the community as well as the amount of ex-offenders being released is unlikely to slow down (Lowenkamp & Latessa, 2005). Ex-offenders who do not have steady and legitimate employment can potentially cause more harm to the community than they did prior to their incarceration (Weiman, 2007; Jeremy Travis, 2005). The subsequent research proposal would also examine if there are differential hiring practices for Native Hawaiians with a criminal record, as compared to other races with a criminal record. Are equally qualified Native Hawaiians less likely to be hired over other races also with a criminal record? Limited research has been done in this area especially in our unique, cultural melting pot of Hawaii. A study of this significance has serious implications as Hawaii is usually thought of as a place where everyone is treated fairly, especially since we have diverse cultures from all over the world working together.

Criminal Background Checks

Criminal background checks have mainly been used as a tool for law enforcement. Within the past 30 years, all of that changed in 1976 with Paul v. Davis, in which the Supreme Court ruled that, "the publication of official acts, including arrest, conviction, and incarceration records, were not protected by privacy rights" (Finlay, 2007). This ruling has caused significant changes in the handling of criminal records as it has allowed employers, family members, spouses, or anyone else to do background checks on anyone. Many of these websites are free of charge. Due to this ruling, the concept of an ex-offender trying to find adequate employment is further hampered as the current public mentality is that a criminal record is a strong predictor for future offenses, which has caused many employers to screen potential employees for a criminal record (Pager, 2006). However, new research has suggested that the chances of an offender re-offending falls significantly 6 to 7 years after an arrest as a criminal record has little relevance toward future action once that time span has passed (Pager, 2006; Kurlychek, Brame, & Bushway, 2006). The public and many employers around the country still continue to identify a criminal record as a sign of potential criminal activity even though the ex-offender has left that life style behind. The stigma lingers as one is continuously viewed as untrustworthy and deviant (Becker, 1963).

With the coming of the digital age, many states from around the country have been slowly moving toward digitizing official records (Wieman, 2007) through the use of the internet. This has created greater access to a large repository of information which can be accessed by a wide range of individuals (Pager, 2006). This new technique of information dissemination has subsequently created a booming online industry for criminal background checks, with an estimated 64 million individuals in state criminal databases (Finlay, 2007; Brien 2005). This industry, however, remains rather unchecked as smaller firms have been found to be negligent in their reporting accuracy (Wieman, 2007) and depth as certain information is disclosed which should not be. This can cause significant problems as many companies use background checks as a inexpensive way to screen employees before they even have a chance to prove themselves or explain their past actions. With this newfound access to criminal history records, Finlay (2007) points out that states with an open record system create a greater negative effect on ex-offenders trying to find employment as opposed to states that do not.

Criminal background checks, as stated are widely available and relatively easy to access and have become almost second nature for many employers especially those that have locations in the inner city (Weiman, 2007) or deal with large African American applicant pools (Finlay, 2007). These checks are often seen as more of an employment barrier than anything else as many of these individuals who are being checked had very low employment prospects to begin with (Western et al, 2001) and are now hampered even more by a criminal record. However, one cannot fault employers for using background checks as fear, employment issues, and even civil liability are of concern. In most cases, employers are often held liable and can face negligent hiring suits (Finlay, 2007) in the event that they fail to check for a criminal background which can possibly expose customers and employees to harm (Weiman, 2007; Bushway, 1996) as well as expose a business to theft (Pager, 2006). The thought of these criminal actions being caused by an employee (Thompson & Cummings, 2010; Glynn, 1998) have led many to implement pre-employment criminal background checks. However it was found that a significant number of employers believed that they were required by law to perform background checks (Weiman, 2007) which is surprising, but not the case.

Due to background checks, ex-offenders are severely limited in their employment opportunities as background checks cause many ex-offenders to seek low-paying employment. Such jobs not only have low pay, but high rates of job turnover (Lichtenberger, 2006; Holzer, Raphael, & Stoll, 2003). The problem with these job opportunities is that there is little-to-no chance for advancement and long-term stability which in turn gives ex-offenders little chance at stable employment especially if the public and more importantly the employers assume that having a criminal record will reflect on future criminal activity. It gives the ex-offender no reason to remain a law-abiding citizen. This evidence is backed by the Bureau of Justice Statistics which states that 89% of parole and probation offenders were unemployed at the time of re-arrest (Litchenberger, 2006). Through the years, there have been various recommendations regarding possible solutions to ex-offender re-entry and employment such as time limits for criminal records which would affect background checks. However, as much as it may seem like a good idea, it does have a dangerous effect. This can lead to employers making generalizations about gaps in an applicant's employment history (Pogarsky, 2006; Raphael, 2006) as it may be interpreted as time spent in jail or prison (Weiman, 2007).

Pogarsky (2006) mentions that a fellow researcher Raphael (2006) made a very convincing deduction that if criminal records were to have time limits then employers may seek less accurate and possibly more discriminatory methods of identifying an ex-offender. Being an ex-offender and having a criminal record while looking for legitimate employment is difficult. Factoring in the rise in access of criminal background checks has created an even bigger employment barrier especially when these individuals are expected to be productive members of society or fulfill parole or probation requirements (Pogarsky, 2006). Finlay (2010) brings up a very poignant observation that in the next 10 years there will be an increase in prisoner release as this will bring to light even more employment discrepancies brought on by having an open criminal record database. However, if the job opportunities are not present, it makes little sense for an ex-offender to apply let alone worry about a criminal background check.

Job Opportunities

Research has shown that the ability to find and hold a legitimate job has led to a reduction in recidivism (Litchenberger, 2006; Fry Consulting Group, 1987; Litchtenberger & Onyewu, 2005; Morrissey, Ogie, & Litchenberger, 2005) as employment is key to successful reentry into society (Pogarsky, 2006). In 2001, various employers were surveyed if they would hire an ex-offender and more than 60% said they would not (Weiman, 2007; Holzer, Raphael, & Stoll, 2004, 2006, 2007). Another study concluded that many employers were more likely to hire welfare recipients or applicants with little work experience (Western, Kling & Weiman, 2001; Holzer, 1996) such as GED holders or individuals with long-term unemployment (Weiman, 2007) rather than ex-offenders. However, even if an employer is willing to hire an ex-offender and overlook his or her criminal background, the positions that are available have little prospects for wage growth (Western, Kling, & Weiman, 2001; Nagin & Waldfogel, 1998) or advancement as many of these positions are thought of as undesirable by the general population (Litchenberger, 2006). This is supported by a recent study in which the results show manufacturing, construction, or transportation industries are more willing to hire ex-offenders than any other industry (Litchenberger, 2006; Holzer, Raphael, & Stoll 2003) while education, security, health, and similar industries require specialized licenses which an ex-offender may not be able to obtain due to restrictions (Thompson & Cummings, 2010; Bazemore & Stichcomb, 2004; Harris & Keller, 2005; Holzer, Raphael, & Stoll 2003).

Of these entry level jobs that are available to ex-offenders often lack the stability, advancement and wage growth needed to become successful and independent. To complicate matters, ex-offenders are denied social services such as food stamps, welfare, public housing and student loans (Thompson & Cummings, 2010; Hancy, 2002) which creates more frustration when looking for employment. Another compounding problem that many in the public and even those being released do not foresee is that job opportunities may be substantially limited upon release. The concentration of released prisoners can flood and overwhelm the local job market which further erodes an ex-offenders employment opportunities (Western, Kling, & Weiman, 2001). However, even if an ex-offender were to find legitimate employment, as mentioned earlier, the job will most likely be a low-entry position. Due to this fact, the annual income of an ex-offender normally will fall below the poverty line, but in some instances an ex-offender may initially find higher pay at certain jobs, but only in the beginning as the pay will eventually taper off (Thompson & Cummings, 2010; Freudenberg, Daniels, Crum, Perkins, & Richie, 2005; Nagin & Waldfogel, 1998). The job opportunities available to ex-offenders are very limited and do not offer stable or long-term employment, which is needed for success in the community. Instead, the lack of job opportunities creates just another employment barrier especially when race is taken into account and what it does negatively for an ex-offender.


One would think that after the civil rights movement of the 1950's and 1960's, that race-based issues would not be much of a concern now and that there would be more job opportunities available for minorities and less representation in prison. However, nearly 1 in 31 people in the United States that are either in prison or on parole (Thompson & Cummings, 2010; U.S. Department of Justice, 2005) and most of that population is made up of minorities (Thompson & Cummings, 2010; Harrison & Beck). Ten percent of the African Americans living in the United States are either in prison or jail while 60 percent of African American men that do not have a high school diploma will eventually spend time incarcerated (Pettit & Lyons, 2009; Pew, 2008; Pettit & Western, 2004). This will cause them to have low job prospects and possibly recidivate back into the prison system. However, many of these individuals are being incarcerated as federal, state and local law enforcement agencies from around the country are stepping up enforcement. Prosecutors are now pursuing convictions which result in incarceration (Pettit & Lyons, 2009; Mauer, 1999; Tonry, 1995; Western, 2006). It just happens that a vast majority of those arrested are young minority men (Western, Kling & Weiman, 2001) who have very low job prospects to be begin with, but coupled with a criminal record and being of a minority creates a negative effect on job opporunities and prospects (Thompson & Cummings, 2010; Pager & Quillian, 2005).

It has also been well documented in previous studies and research that minorities have a difficult time finding work, but when you factor in minorities with a criminal record, that job just became harder. For instance, a result from a recent study concluded that African American men with a criminal record worked 15.1 percent fewer weeks per year and earned 12.4 percent lower wages which equated to a 37 percent lower annual income (Weiman 2007). This is quite significant as their job prospects are already low to begin with, but only seem to get worse as a criminal record is added into the equation. Due to high incarceration rates among minorities, their job opportunities are significantly impacted and so are their wages (Western, Kling & Weiman, 2001) as this creates just another economic barrier that minorities with a record must deal with. It has also been shown that even young African American applicants that do not have a record are treated as if they do by employers until they can be investigated by a criminal background check (Weiman, 2007; Pager, 2007; Holzer, Stoll, & Raphael, 2006). Even if minorities do not have a record, they are often still treated unfairly and even more so if they have one.


There are a few issues with prior research on the subject of "age" which was covered in-depth in only one article. The remainder of the prior research relegated this topic to a few lines or one paragraph. Much more study is needed in regards to job prospects available to individuals at different ages upon release from prison. This would be an interesting study as individuals from different age groups most likely perform better than others when finding work. It would also be interesting to see different job outlooks for minorities at varying ages once released from prison. It would give good insight into further employment barriers that affect ex-offenders, but also minority ex-offenders as that was another issue that was noticed with many prior research results. A vast majority of prior research did not cover much on minorities as the topic was brought up here and there, but very few went into any detail. It would have been good to read about specific minorities also, not just "minorities" as a group, but individual minorities such as Asians, Pacific Islanders, etc. By delving deeper into the minority issue it helps the research garner validity as it goes above and beyond what research may cover. Most current and prior research usually lump all of the minorities together, but if one would separate the minorities into their own distinct category that would help with the validity.

Research Methodology:

Hypothesis: There are differential hiring practices for Native Hawaiians with a criminal record, compared to non-Hawaiians.

True Experiment

This particular study will be conducted and the data collected is by the way of experiment, which will actually be a "true experiment" when it is completed as there is a random assignment, the experiment and observation stage which form a "true study." The conceptualization or what we want to study is whether or not there are differential hiring practices for Native Hawaiians with a criminal record. Are Native Hawaiians less likely to be hired over other races with a similar criminal record but with less work experience? The operationalization portion of this study or how we will measure if there are differential hiring practices, is based upon interview callbacks for the various mock applicants. By measuring the amount of callbacks for each applicant, we can test to see if there are potentially differential hiring practices against a certain race as each applicant will interview uniformly (more will be discussed later) and have similar criminal records. Each applicant will also have his own personal voice mailbox to record callbacks. The independent variable for this study will be that the Native Hawaiian applicant will have substantially more job experience than his fellow applicants who will have less. By using this method, the Native Hawaiian applicant is more likely to be qualified for the position so if he is passed up there may be a bias or differential hiring practice, based on ones race.

Research Site

The study location will be in the Honolulu area as there is a wide variety of jobs at various different levels from entry to high level. These job opportunities range from industrial, commercial, tourism, labor, agriculture, private, financial, food, etc. With such a diverse selection of jobs, this makes Honolulu a prime location for this study. There will be an opportunity to test anything from low-entry level positions to possible higher level positions. For this study, however, we will only be focusing on low-entry job positions as that is what most ex-offenders will be applying for and possibly getting. Another reason why Honolulu was chosen over other areas of Oahu is for the diverse population living within the area. There are many business owners from different race, socioeconomic backgrounds, education, etc. This allows the researcher to have his or her applicants apply for not only a variety of jobs, but to be interviewed by a number of owners.

Length of Study

The length of this study can be from 6 to 7 months as the employer(s) need time to look over applications and make decisions. The interviews may not take more than an hour, but reviewing all the applicants, comparing resumes, checking on references can take a significant amount of time which will impact the length of the study. This timeframe is just for the study. For instance, the researcher will need to find willing individuals to act as the applicants. The researcher must put out flyers or some type of advertisements, indicating the need for participants. Upon receiving inquiries, the applicants will need to be screened and then complete all necessary paper work. This study will have to compensate these individuals for their time which can be done so with monetary gifts for the length of the study. The applicants must also match the ethnic criteria of the study. The researcher will need to find at least 5 males, who are at least college graduates that are American citizens, but who are ethnically full Japanese, Hawaiian, Chinese, Caucasian or Filipino (one of each for the study). They will be given fake names which will be reflective of their race. Another thing that must be taken into account is that these individuals will have to interview similarly, as well as sell their fake background, and work experience depending on the job. In the event that the employer asks about a criminal record, each applicant would have similar records. This process will take time as each applicant must be coached and briefed on what to say and do, to preserve uniformity and eliminate variables.

The applicants will also have to dress appropriately, even though the job is low-entry, all applicants should dress appropriately such as dress pants, dress shoes, collared dress shirt and a tie. This will help every test applicant look uniformly, so one person does not have an edge over another, just by how they're dressed. The clothing will be provided by the researchers so that each applicant is dressed appropriately, but not similar, as giving them the option to dress themselves could lead to unforeseen variables. These applicants must also be clean shaven and well-groomed which is something that they must do on their own. Just the process of screening these individuals can take an additional 1 to 3 months of preparation. However, it is dependent on how fast one finds applicants that are willing to participate in the study. If we go by the original timetable, in addition to the screening process, the tentative start time would be May 2011 to November 2011. This would allow the applicants to get accustomed to the study and also apply for summer work from June to September and holiday work from October to November as such work is normally low-entry level which is perfect for this study. The start and end time of the study includes data measurement. Callback data will have to be processed and disseminated so for this the study will use SPSS for all its data collection and analysis as the study is quantitative in nature.

Target Population & Criteria

The population for this study is job positions posted in the various newspapers while the target population will be entry-level jobs that were advertised, which the applicants will apply for. This will make the study a probability sampling as the researcher will be using a simple random sampling method to select entry level jobs that are posted in various newspapers. Simple random sampling is the easiest form of sampling to conduct with this type of research as the researcher is also able to get a good mix of the population which helps in referring it back into the general population. However, simple random sampling does have flaws as it is not as focused on a specific group and it gives little control over the study as everything is random. In this case, everything works out well for this study.

As mentioned earlier, the researcher is going to use the classified job listings from within the various newspapers throughout Hawaii. The newspapers will include, but are not limited to, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Midweek, Penny Saver, etc. The jobs openings that the study is targeting are entry level positions which specify little to no experience necessary and may ask for a high school diploma or GED. These are the type of jobs ex-offenders are most likely to apply for and get. For this study any job is fair game, as long as it is entry level as anything higher will most likely be a waste of time and resources. Also the timeframe for this study is limited and if the applicants were to apply for anything higher than entry level, it might take longer for a callback, which once again would waste time and resources. Due to the timeframe, for best results, the researcher should pick at least 5-7 low-entry jobs per week to get a steady stream of weekly results.

Once all low-entry level jobs have been identified from the various newspapers and classified ads, their information will be placed onto note cards and placed in a black cardboard box. The researcher will then select 5-7 jobs or more per week, depending on whether the study can handle that much. Once ads have been chosen, the researcher will send out the applicants in a random order to apply for the job. It is a very simple but effective method and it is still considered a probability sample as the places and applicant order were chosen at random. By doing the probability sampling, it helps give the study added validity as we may be able to refer the results back into the general population.

Ethical Considerations & Issues

For this study, there are not many ethical concerns to deal with, but there are concerns nonetheless. First, every individual that is associated with this study will have to sign an informed consent form. The form will give an overview of the study itself, as well as inform the individual that by signing this form they agree to the terms of the study. We also will inform them that all personal information will be kept confidential. The names of the various companies that the applicants will be applying to will be kept confidential. Releasing these names can cause significant harm to the business, should a hiring discrepancy arise. Another ethical consideration with this study is that it will technically waste the time and money of the employers. Having all five of these mock applicants apply for the same position will cost the employer time as well as money to conduct the interview. If one of the applicants is chosen, they will have to call to decline the position. If only our test applicants apply, then we have a problem. As this can put the employer into a bind, as they need the help, but instead, wasted valuable time and money dealing with flakes. Another ethical consideration is that this study could give employers who are willing to hire ex-offenders a negative impression of future ex-offender applicants as we did was waste their time and declined all offers. There is one issue regarding the interviews itself as applicants may be turned away when they reveal they have a criminal record. If that were to happen, there is nothing you can do as a researcher but move onto the next job advertisement. One last issue that may arise during the interviews themselves is that the applicant may fall out of character, which can skew the results.


This study is important as it will update existing knowledge which adds a different twist on studies conducted on the U.S. mainland. Many of these studies and prior research gathered various amounts of information to help build the knowledge we have today. However, the prior research conducted only used certain races which completely left off a large portions of the population. This research proposal will help advance and update existing knowledge by delving deeper into the problems facing Native Hawaiians with a criminal record. Aside from advancing further knowledge, this study has many different positive implications that could be useful in the real world. For instance, if this study were to be printed in a local newspaper, it can bring about community awareness into the problem of differential hiring practices for Native Hawaiians with a criminal record. Employers who practice such policy can possibly be shamed into changing their ways as they read about it in the newspaper. This can also bring to light the plight of the Native Hawaiian population and how society discriminates against them. The study could also show the lack of stable employment ex-offenders in general are able to apply for. This may bring about possible policy changes from lawmakers as they may work toward creating job advancement programs for ex-offenders who truly work hard and stay clean. There are a multitude of positive effects that can come out of this study. For instance, law makers can also look into the direct causes that forced individuals to seek these low-entry jobs. The public can also be exposed to the harsh reality that face ex-offenders when they seek employment.

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