Absence of conflict of interest.
Jackson, O., & Zhao, B. (2017). The effect of changing employers’ access to criminal histories on ex-offenders’ labor market outcomes: Evidence from the 2010-2012 Massachusetts CORI Reform. Boston, MA: Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. [Study 2: Record access reform]
- The state of Massachusetts, as part of the Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) Reform, implemented a policy change to reduce access to job applicants’ criminal histories. The study’s objective was to examine the impact of the record access reform on employment and earnings among people with a criminal record. The authors investigated similar research questions for another contrast, which is available here.
- The authors used a nonexperimental design to compare people with a criminal record who were impacted by the record access reform with a similar group of people who were not impacted by the reform. The authors compared impacts on employment and earnings using Unemployment Insurance wage records and CORI from the state Department of Criminal Justice Information Services for 14 quarters after the reform was implemented.
- The study found a mixed relationship between record access reform and the employment rate of people. In quarters 1 to 5, there was either no impact on employment or a small positive impact. In quarters 6 to 14, this relationship was significant and negative, which means that record access reform was associated with a lower employment rate among the treatment group compared with the comparison group. The record access reform was associated, however, with significantly increased earnings in 5 of the 14 quarters after implementation, but it showed no impact in the rest of the 14 quarters.
- The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is low because the authors did not ensure that the groups being compared were similar before the intervention. This means we are not confident that the estimated effects are attributable to the record access reform; other factors are likely to have contributed.
Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) Reform
Features of the Intervention
The record access reform, implemented in Massachusetts in May 2012, sought to reduce access to applicants’ criminal history information. Before the implementation, employers did not have access to CORI records and instead used consumer reporting agencies to obtain criminal background information. Consumer reporting agencies might contain erroneous or incomplete information because they gather information from a number of sources, such as criminal court files, policy arrest logs, and newspaper articles. With the record access reform, all Massachusetts employers had access to the CORI database, and the state offered incentives to employers to switch to use the CORI database to conduct background checks. Records were accessible only for a limited period following the offense. Employers could search and retrieve CORI records of people with a misdemeanor under 5 years old and a felony conviction under 10 years old. Any convictions older than those time periods specified would not show up as a CORI record.
Features of the Study
The authors used a nonexperimental comparison group design with a sample of 580,020 people ages 14 to 66 with criminal records in the Massachusetts state database between 2010 and 2015. People in the treatment group had a criminal record that was searchable before record access reform and unsearchable after the reform. The authors compared the treatment group with a comparison group of people who were not impacted by the reform because the searchability of their records did not change after the reform, either because they had severe offenses and their records were searchable both before or after the reform or because their offenses occurred while they were juveniles and their records were not searchable either before and after the reform. The authors matched the treatment and comparison groups on age, gender, race and ethnicity, and geographic location. With data from the CORI database—and wage records from state’s Unemployment Insurance program—the authors examined employment and earnings impacts of the record access reform for 14 quarters in 2012 to 2015 after the reform was implemented using a statistical model that compared changes in outcomes before and after the reform between the treatment and comparison groups.
- There was a mixed relationship between record access reform and people’s employment rate. In the first quarter after implementation, the reform had a significant positive impact on employment, but there was no significant impact on employment in quarters 2 to 5. In quarters 6 to 14, however, this relationship was significant and negative (ranging from a -0.5 to -1.2 percentage point decrease in employment), which means that record access reform was associated with a lower employment rate in the long-term.
- The record access reform was associated with significantly increased earnings for people with a criminal record in 5 of the 14 quarters after implementation by between $107 and $342, but there was no impact in the rest of the 14 quarters.
Considerations for Interpreting the Findings
The authors did not account for existing differences in criminal justice history between the groups before the record access reform. These existing differences between the groups—and not the reform—could explain the observed differences in outcomes. Moreover, the severity of an individual’s criminal history is confounded with the reform itself because lesser offenses were always non-searchable while more serious offenses were always searchable. People in the treatment group whose offenses changed from searchable to non-searchable as a result of the reform had systematically different criminal histories than people in the comparison group whose offenses were always searchable or always non-searchable.
Causal Evidence Rating
The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is low because the authors did not ensure that the groups being compared were similar before the intervention. This means we are not confident that the estimated effects are attributable to the record access reform; other factors are likely to have contributed.