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The Unintended Effects of Ban-the-Box Laws on Crime

Joseph J. Sabia, Thanh Tam Nguyen, Taylor Mackay and Dhaval Dave

Journal of Law and Economics, 2021, vol. 64, issue 4, 783 - 820

Abstract: Ban-the-box (BTB) laws, which prevent employers from asking prospective employees about their criminal histories at initial job screenings, are intended to increase employment opportunities and reduce incentives for crime. This study is the first to comprehensively explore the relationship between BTB laws and arrests. Using data from the National Incident-Based Reporting System, we find that BTB laws are associated with a 16 percent increase in criminal incidents involving Hispanic male arrestees. This finding is supported by parallel analysis using the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 and is consistent with BTB-law-induced job loss due to employer-based statistical discrimination. We find less evidence that BTB laws increase property crime among African American men. Supplemental analyses from the American Community Survey suggest that barriers to welfare participation among Hispanic men may partially explain this result. Our estimates suggest that BTB laws generate approximately $350 million in additional annual crime costs.

Date: 2021
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