Ban the Box and Statistical Discrimination

by Peter Van Doren - Cato Institute

With 25 percent of the world’s prison population, the U.S. has the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world. Over 600,000 people are released from American prisons each year and, sadly, about two-thirds of them will be rearrested within three years. Creating opportunities for people released from prison to reintegrate into society has rightly become a key focus of criminal justice reformers.

In recent years, “Ban The Box” policies and legislation, which require companies to delay asking whether job applicants have a criminal record until later in the hiring process, have become a popular policy response to the reintegration problem. The reasoning in support of BTB is well-intentioned: make sure that employers evaluate candidates and their skills carefully rather than arbitrarily eliminating a whole class of applicants, ex-cons, at the early stages of the hiring process. But evaluations of BTB policies have concluded that the effect is to reduce minority employment rather than induce firms to engage in a costly search and interview effort.