Do Ban the Box Laws Increase Crime?

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

NBER Working Paper No. 24381
Issued in March 2018
NBER Program(s):Health Economics, Law and Economics, Labor Studies, Public Economics

Ban-the-box (BTB) laws, which prevent employers from asking prospective employees about their criminal histories at initial job screenings, have been adopted by 25 states and the District of Columbia. Using data from the National Incident-Based Reporting System, the Uniform Crime Reports, and the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997, this study is the first to estimate the effect of BTB laws on crime. We find some evidence that BTB laws are associated with an increase in property crime among working-age Hispanic men. This finding is consistent with employer-based statistical discrimination as well as potential moral hazard. A causal interpretation of our results is supported by placebo tests on policy leads and a lack of BTB-induced increases in crime for non-Hispanic whites and women. Finally, we find that BTB laws are associated with a reduction in property crime among older and white individuals, consistent with labor-labor substitution toward those with perceived lower probabilities of having criminal records (Doleac and Hansen 2017).

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w24381

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