The Effect of Hawaii’s Ban The Box Law
on Repeat Offending
Stewart J. D’Alessio &Lisa Stolzenberg &
Jamie L. Flexon
Received: 4 March 2014 /Accepted: 23 May 2014
#Southern Criminal Justice Association 2014
Abstract The social stigma accompanying an official criminal record hinders the ability
of an individual to acquire quality and stable employment, which is problematic because
of the often reported nexus between unemployment and criminal behavior. Ban the box
laws that limit an employer’s use of criminal background checks during the hiring process
are being established across the country to help integrate ex-offenders into the labor force.
The current study investigates whether Hawaii’s 1998 ban the box law reduced repeat
offending in Honolulu County. Logistic regression results show that a criminal defendant
prosecuted in Honolulu for a felony crime was 57 % less likely to have a prior criminal
conviction after the implementation of Hawaii’s ban the box law. By mollifying the social
stigma attached to a criminal record during the hiring process, Hawaii’s ban the box law
proved to be extremely successful in attenuating repeat felony offending.
Keywords Ban the box laws .Criminal record .Social stigma .Labeling theory
The Stigma of a Criminal Record and Labor Force Participation
Over 14 million arrests are made every year in the U.S. (U.S. Department of Justice,
2010). Criminal record histories often result from these arrests, with about two-thirds of
all felony arrests resulting in a criminal conviction (Cohen & Kyckelhahn, 2010). It is
estimated that more than one in four Americans currently has a criminal record
(Rodriguez & Emsellem, 2011) and a large percentage of these individuals are black
reflecting their much higher arrest rate as compared to whites. These criminal records
can be readily accessed for a nominal fee by the general public, including employers,
landlords and insurance companies among others via computer databases (Connerley,
Arvey, & Bernardy, 2001). Millions of criminal background checks are conducted each
year in the U.S. (SEARCH, 2006). About 92 % of employers inquire about the criminal
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S. J. D’Alessio (*):L. Stolzenberg :J. L. Flexon
Department of Criminal Justice, Florida International University, 11200 SW 8th Street - PCA 263B,
Miami, FL 33199, USA
histories of perspective employees (Society for Human Resource Management, 2010)
and nearly 25 % of the entire U.S. male workforce would generate a hit from a criminal
record search (Freeman, 2008).
Considerable social stigma results from an individual being labeled as a criminal in
our society and this negative “tag”is theorized to engender subsequent criminal
behavior in one of two general ways (Becker, 1963). First, because the criminal label
generates a negative social reaction among the population, individuals possessing such
a label are more apt to be scrutinized by social control agents. This intensification in the
social monitoring of criminally labeled individuals results in their having a greater
probability than non-labeled individuals of being discovered and punished for any
subsequent illegal activity. This unrelenting process of heightened social monitoring of
the criminally labeled and the resulting increase in the discovery of their illegal
activities causes the initial criminal label to be affixed more firmly to these individuals.
It is also probable that a criminal label may result in the amplification of criminal
activity by affecting adversely a person’s self-concept. Cooley (1902)arguedthatan
individual’s self-concept is derived from other people’s perception of him or her. If
people believe a person to possess a certain undesirable characteristic such as being
criminally inclined and then interact with the person based on this belief, the targeted
person may adopt this objectionable characteristic in a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Tannenbaum (1938) referred to this process as the “dramatization of evil.”The initially
labeling of a person as being a criminal, which tends to occur more frequently among
individuals belonging to less powerful groups in society, results in the continuation and
stabilization of the person’s criminal behavior. Lacking a criminal label, a person’s
criminal activity would have probably remained sporadic and unorganized.
The social stigma associated with a criminal record is reported to have a number of adverse
consequences for an individual that include magnifying the difficulty in finding a spouse
(Edin, 2000), attenuating the probability of being admitted and receiving funding to attend a
university (Boettke, Coyne, & Hall, 2013), hindering a person’s ability to secure rental
housing (Thacher, 2008), impeding a person’s ability to vote (Manza & Uggen, 2006), and
engendering negative health outcomes (Schnittker & John, 2007)tonameafew.
stigmatized by a criminal record also finds it burdensome to secure quality and enduring
employment (Pager, 2003), a difficulty that is even greater than a member of a minority group
or welfare recipient (Holzer, Steven, & Michael, 2007), because employers view people
possessing a criminal record as untrustworthy, lacking relevant job skills and possessing an
inclination to steal (Holzer et al., 2007; Schmitt & Warner, 2010). Employers also believe that
they attenuate their vulnerability to civil liability by not hiring potentially dangerous em-
ployees (Beaver, 1997), despite the fact that workplace violence is typically perpetrated by
nonemployee strangers (Duhart, 2001) and that an individual with a criminal record is less apt
to commit a crime in the workplace than an employee who has never been convicted
(Blumstein & Nakamura, 2009). Even if an ex-offender is fortunate enough to find work,
he or she can expect to be relegated to the secondary labor market where wages are
Studies find that the stigma of an arrest (Grogger, 1995), criminal conviction
The adverse social consequences engendered by a criminal record date back to ancient Greece (Damaska,
1968). More recently, Buckler and Travis (2003) identify a discernible shift in the adverse social repercussions
of a criminal record from political consequences to ones designed to protect the public
The secondary labor market is characterized by jobs that have low pay, high turnover and few opportunities
for advancement (Reich, Gordon, & Edwards, 1973)
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(Waldfogel, 1994; Nagin & Waldfogel, 1995) and incarceration in prison (Western, Kling, &
Wei m a n, 2001)
all act to attenuate a person’s earnings in the labor force, which is salient
when one considers that a low wage amplifies criminal activity generally (Freeman, 1996;
Gould, Weinberg, & Mustard, 2002; Grogger, 1998) and criminal recidivism specifically
State licensing agencies further circumscribe the employment opportunities of ex-
offenders by prohibiting them from being licensed in professions such as home
healthcare, nursing, education, plumbing, and barbering (Kethineni & Falcone, 2007;
Wheelock, Uggen, & Hlavka, 2011). Employment discrimination not only hinders an
ex-offender’s ability to find work, but it can have an amplification effect by diminishing
an individual’s performance in the labor market (Steele, 1997). This situation in turn
can provoke future negative employment outcomes for the individual. Many ex-
offenders also refrain from applying for jobs once they realize that a criminal back-
ground check is required, thereby negating any slim chance they might have had in
obtaining employment (Winnick & Bodkin, 2008). Employment discrimination that is
directed against ex-offenders is also expensive for society, costing taxpayers an esti-
mated $57 to $65 billion per year (Schmitt & Warner, 2010).
Not only does a criminal record curtail employment opportunities, but a person’sday-
to-day interaction with people with a proclivityforpartakingincriminalactivitiesmay
further act to amplify participation in illegal activities (Hagan, 1993). Goffman (1963)
argues that because society shuns stigmatized individuals, stigmatized individuals often
react to this distain by joining others who face the same stigma. This response is
problematic in that a large proportion of crime is committed in groups (Stolzenberg &
D’Alessio, 2008). Additionally, because of the harsh rigors of prison confinement (Katz,
Levitt, & Shustorovich, 2003) and because of the detrimental social interactions that occur
when incarcerated in prison (Bayer, Hjalmarsson, & Pozen, 2009), the prison experience
is also thought to transform individuals into more dangerous offenders following their
release into society (Chen & Shapiro, 2007). Studies furnish indirect support for this logic
by demonstrating that people sentenced to prison are more likely to recidivate than
similarly situated individuals who received community sanctions (Clear, 2007).
It is also consequential to recognize that because of coercive mobility (Clear, Rose,
Waring, & Scully, 2003), which is the cycling back and forth of individuals between
prison and the community, and because the social stigma congruent with a criminal record
can extend beyond a person to his or her community (Sampson & Raudenbush, 2005), a
large number of ex-offenders living in a particular community can further hamper
employment opportunities by deterring businesses from hiring residents from the com-
munity and or by preventing businesses from doing business in the community altogether
(Wilson, 1996). Furthermore, when employment opportunities are scarce as is common-
place in many poor minority neighborhoods (Wilson, 1996), employers have an enhanced
proclivity to be overly selective in their hiring practices (Offner & Holzer, 2002).
Research also suggests that the ability of ex-offenders to find meaningful employ-
ment is probably conditioned by an individual’s race. The combination of minority
status and a criminal record acts to amplify both stigma and employment discrimination
However, while incarceration in prison decreases a person’s wage upon release, the length of incarceration
does not seem to have a robust influence on wages (Kling, 2006) and the wage penalty experienced by the
released offender tends to dissipate over time (Pettit & Lyons, 2007)
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for blacks rather than for whites because multiple dimensions of a stereotype possessed
by an individual makes the stereotype more credible, and as a consequence of this
enhanced credibility, the person is viewed as being less deserving of a second chance at
redemption (Pager, 2007). A number of studies find that black job applicants face
palpable racial discrimination in the labor market. For example, in a study conducted in
Boston and Chicago, Bertrand and Mullainathan (2004) found that employers were
much more inclined to call job applicants with white sounding names than African-
American sounding names, with a white sounding name yielding as many callbacks as
an additional 8 years of work experience. In another study that analyzed survey data,
(Schiller & Bradley, 2004) found that one-third of blacks claimed that they were passed
over for a job or promotion because of their race.
Studies also find that the effect of an individual’s race on employment outcomes
becomes even more salient when the individual possesses a criminal record because
employers are “… particularly threatened by black men with criminal records”(Holzer,
Offher, & Sorensen, 2005:45). There is a widespread stereotype in society that blacks,
especially young black males, are dangerous and have a proclivity for partaking in
criminal activities (Gibbs, 1988). The media often acts to perpetuate these negative
stereotypes. In his study of local news broadcasts, Entman (1992) found that violent
crimes committed by blacks comprised a substantial portion of the coverage of news
stories that centrally featured blacks. Blacks were not only more likely than whites to be
characterized as criminal offenders in news stories about violent crime, but they were
also more apt to be depicted as physically intimidating. This pattern was also noted by
Jamieson (1992) in national network portrayals. The negative stereotype of blacks
being dangerous and criminally predisposed is thought to compel employers to dis-
criminate against black job applicants, especially black applicants who are ex-
offenders, because the presence of a criminal record ostensibly validates an employer’s
In an audit study conducted in Milwaukee, for example, Pager (2003)sentpairsof
applicants of the same race to apply for the same jobs. One of the applicant’sresume
indicated a prison spell, while the other did not. Black ex-offenders received a callback
five percent of the time, black non-offenders 14% of the time, white ex-offenders 17%
of the time and white non-offenders 34% of the time. These results show that not only
is the stigma of a criminal record more deleterious for blacks than for whites, but that
blacks without a criminal record encounter significantly more discrimination from
employers than whites with a criminal record. Other studies also document substantial
racial disparity in the likelihood of an employer hiring a black or white job applicant
with a criminal record (Pager & Quillian, 2005).
The Relationship Between Unemployment and Crime
There are a number of ways in which unemployment may amplify criminal activity.
Some argue individuals partake in illegal activities rather than legitimate work because
they can generate more income from the former (Becker, 1968).
Thus, because ex-
offenders without jobs tend to have insufficient funds from legitimate sources to
Crime can also furnish individuals with nonmonetary rewards such as respect among peers (Bourgois, 1995).
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provide for themselves and their families, it is highly plausible that they are motivated
to partake in illegal activities to meet their financial needs. It is also theorized that
economic hardship, which is frequently proliferated by an inability to secure worth-
while employment fosters resentment, hostility and frustration. These factors provide
the initial impetus for criminal behavior (Blau & Blau, 1982). Additionally, not only is
being unable to find employment psychologically distressing, but it can also promote
disillusionment and anger because of the result of a status rather than the consequence
of an individual’s job performance. Aggressive behavior can then transpire when an
individual is blocked from actualizing his or her goals, particularly in instances where
the blockage is perceived by the individual to be unjust (Agnew, 1992). Finding a good
job also increases contact with others who hold conventional beliefs (Warr, 1998),
thereby enhancing informal control in the workplace (Allan & Steffensmeier, 1989).
Not only does research evince an association between unemployment and crime
generally, but unemployment is also reported to influence recidivism (Berk, Lenihan, &
Rossi, 1980;Needels,1996;Harer,1994; Visher, Debus-Sherrill, & Yahner, 2011;
Wang , Mea rs , & Bales, 2010; Uggen, 2000). It also appears that unemployment has a
greater effect on repeat offending than on first-time offending. D’Alessio, Stolzenberg,
and Eitle, (2013) document an inverted U-shaped relationship between the unemploy-
ment rate and the probability of repeat offending. They argue that while employers
generally have a negative attitude toward people with a criminal record, they are more
receptive to hiring these less desirable workers when the labor market is tight and
additional workers are needed. However, when economic conditions deteriorate and
unemployment rises, individuals with a criminal record are quick to be laid off by
employers. Criminal activity then increases among these individuals until the unem-
ployment rate reaches a very high level because most repeat offenders already lost their
jobs when the economy initially began to sour. The finding that a rise in unemployment
impacts repeat offending more than first-time offending suggests that programs directed
at helping ex-offenders find jobs might be more effective in reducing crime than
programs directed at improving employment opportunities generally.
Ban the Box Laws
Statutes aimed at diminishing the obstacles encountered by ex-offenders in securing
employment have gained traction in recent years. Such policies have been referred to as
“ban the box”legislation in recognition of the deleterious effect that criminal history
screening can have on a person’s ability to secure employment. The “box”in ban the box
refers to the question on many employment applications asking whether the applicant has a
criminal conviction. Because criminal background screening is thought to impact minorities
disproportionately, the federal government has become vested in the issue via the Equal
Employment Opportunity Commission under the auspices of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
As recently as 2012, the Commission recommended that employer questions pertaining to a
job applicant’s criminal background should be related to the desired position and consistent
with business necessity (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 2012).
A number of state and local jurisdictions are also trying to ameliorate the collateral
consequences of criminal histories by utilizing various formulations of ban the box
legislation. Many policies are focused at the point of the application process, only
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allowing potential employers to query applicants that obtain an offer of conditional
employment or who reach the ranks of final consideration. Even then, it is a typical
requirement that potential employers link necessity of a criminal screening with the
nature of the job. For example, in July of 2013, Rhode Island became the 10th state to
institute ban the box legislation with the governor explicitly noting a connection
between employment and recidivism (National Employment Law Project, 2013). The
ban limits employers from including questions about criminal convictions, charges and
arrests on job applications. On June 13th, 2013, the city of Buffalo, NY instituted a ban
the box ordinance which prohibits public, private, as well as city vendors from
inquiring about criminal histories on job applications; and similarly, the city council
in Seattle, WA recently voted in a unanimous decision to institute restrictions on
employers’inquiry into criminal records (National Employment Law Project, 2013).
The first and probably the most stringent worker protection statute is Hawaii’s1998
ban the box law, Hawaii House Bill 3528 (National Employment Law Project, 2012).
In adding HRS § 378–2.5, public and private employers are prohibited from inquiring
about an applicant’s criminal conviction history until after a conditional offer of
employment is made, whereas the offer may only be withdrawn if a conviction satisfies
a“rational relationship”to the duties and responsibilities of the position (National
Employment Law Project, 2012:3). Once this rational relationship between criminal
history and employment is established, the employer may only inspect the applicant’s
most recent ten year conviction record. Although Hawaii's statute extends to private
employers, prospective employees of the federal government are excluded. Employers
who are expressly permitted to inquire into an individual’s criminal history for em-
ployment purposes under other state or federal laws include the Department of
Education, counties, armed security services, certain health care facilities, and detective
and security guard agencies among others.
Will Ban the Box Laws Work?
Not everyone is fully convinced that the lack of employment opportunities for ex-
offenders influences their criminal offending (Parker & Horwitz, 1986). First, some
argue that the genesis of crime is rooted in a single enduring trait of the individual
rather than in particular situational factors that change over the individual’slife-course
(Gottfredson & Hirschi, 1990). This enduring antisocial latent trait, which is called low
self-control, is conceived as the tendency to avoid acts whose long term negative
ramifications exceed their momentary advantages. Low self-control is shaped early in
childhood by inadequate child rearing practices and remains with an individual
throughout his or her life. Evidence of this immutable trait is evinced by an individual’s
tendency to engage in criminal activity and other impulsive, risk taking behaviors with
little regard for the future consequences of such actions. Thus, according to Gottfedson
and Hirschi and other advocates of the propensity thesis, the lack of self-control
influences both repeat offending and the likelihood that an ex-offender will secure
and retain quality employment.
Second, crime and working in the labor force are not mutually exclusive endeavors.
Over 50 % percent of state prison inmates report that they were employed full-time in
the labor force immediately prior to their being incarcerated in prison (Bureau of Justice
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Statistics, 2004). The effect of the social stigma associated with a criminal record is also
probably exaggerated to some degree because many criminals are self-employed
(Freeman, 1996), and thus “… do not face discrimination, either pure or statistical,
by employers in the labor market”(Fairlie, 2005:41). Third, it is plausible that other
factors besides the social stigma associated with a criminal record such as inadequate
schooling and lack of relevant job skills (Visher et al., 2011), weak prior work histories
(Travis, 2005) and the larger structural economic changes in society, such as the decline
in the manufacturing sector, that have depressed wages for men lacking a postsecond-
ary education and relevant job skills (Handel, 2003) may be responsible for the
difficulty that ex-offenders confront in finding employment.
Fourth, even if the stigma
of a criminal record impacts employment opportunities and wages, communities where
ex-offenders typically live have high unemployment levels and relatively low wages.
Thus, even if the stigma associated with a criminal record was attenuated by a ban the
box law, the economic outlook for an individual living in this type of situation is still
Finally, ban the box laws like the one implemented in Hawaii require the compliance
of employers (Henry, 2008). Because of the fear of civil law suits, employers have
reason to ignore these types of laws. To illustrate, a small informal survey of twenty
Hawaiian employers in the retail, restaurant and hotel industries found that only four of
the employers complied with not asking about criminal records of prospective em-
ployees on applications and one who complied with the law concerning the application
performed a criminal background check before making an offer of employment (Lau,
2000). If employer compliance is minimal as suggested by Lau’s research, it is unlikely
that Hawaii’s ban the box law will achieve its stated objectives.
In the current study, we analyze longitudinal data drawn from the State Court
Processing Statistics (SCPS) program dataset (1990–2004) to ascertain whether the
imposition of the Hawaii’s ban the box law in 1998 improved the safety of Hawaiians
by decreasing felony offending among ex-offenders in Honolulu County. We also
consider whether the influence of the ban on repeat offending varies by the race of
the individual. The possibility that race has a conditioning effect is of salience because
black ex-offenders are more apt than white ex-offenders to face employment discrim-
ination (Pager, 2007). Thus, Hawaii’s ban the box law might have a noteworthy effect
on lessening offending among black ex-offenders, notwithstanding whether the ban
was successful in lowering crime among ex-offenders generally.
The policy implications of this study are noteworthy. If Hawaii’s ban the box law
was effective in curtailing offending among individuals with a prior criminal convic-
tion, then public safety can be enhanced by the use of this type of policy initiative.
However, if Hawaii’s ban the box law did not diminish offending among ex-offenders
to any substantive degree, then alternative strategies designed to improve public safety
would need to be identified.
Only about 35 % of inmates in U.S. correctional facilities earned a high school diploma or higher, compared
with 82 % of the general population (Harlow, 2003)
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This study analyzes data drawn from the State Court Processing Statistics (SCPS)
program dataset. The SCPS contains information on the prosecution of 118,556 felony
criminal defendants in 65 of the 75 most populous counties in the United States in 2000
(Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2007).
This dataset includes information on the prosecu-
tion of felony cases filed in May of even numbered years. Each felony case prosecuted
in state court is followed until the final disposition of the case is reached, or until 1 year
has passed since the filing of the case. Information relating to the demographic
characteristics, arrest charges and criminal history for each defendant is included in
the dataset. Because the dataset includes information on prior criminal history, we are
able to determine whether a criminal defendant has a prior criminal conviction.
We selected Honolulu County, Hawaii for our analysis because it is the only county
contained in the dataset where a ban the box law was passed. Hawaii’s ban the box law
is also considered the most stringent of any of the ban the box laws currently in force.
Thus, if no significant effect is observed in Hawaii, it is doubtful that there would be an
effect in any of the other areas presently enforcing a ban the box law. There were 890
defendants charged with a felony crime in Honolulu County during the following years:
1990, 1994, 1996, 2000, 2002, and 2004. The SCPS did not gather data for Honolulu
for 1992 and 1998.
Repeat offending is a dichotomized dependent variable. An individual prosecuted for a
felony crime possessing at least one prior felony or misdemeanor criminal conviction is
defined as a repeat offender. Repeat offenders are coded as one. Felony criminal defen-
dants prosecuted in Honolulu without a prior criminal conviction are coded as zero. These
defendants include individuals without a previous arrest and individuals arrested previ-
ously but who were not convicted. We focus our analysis on defendants possessing a prior
criminal conviction because Hawaii’s ban the box law only pertains to these individuals.
The dummy coded ban the box variable (1= post-1998 and 0= pre-1998) represents the
exogenous variable of theoretical interest. The pre-law period combines data gathered
in 1990, 1994 and 1996. The post-law period includes data collected in 2000, 2002 and
2004. The expectation is if the ban the box law did effectively curtail repeat offending,
the coefficient for the dummy coded ban the box variable should be negative and
statistically substantive. In the absence of a strong negative relationship, no impact
from the law on repeat criminal offending can be inferred.
The data were collected using a two-stage stratified sampling procedure that weighted the cases accordingly.
A stratified sample was used in the first stage to select the counties. A systematic sample of felony filings
within each selected county was drawn in the second stage. The weight of each case is equal to the inverse
probability of selection into the sample. These data are archived at the Inter-university Consortium for Political
and Social Science Research at the University of Michigan
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Although our primary objective is to assess the influence of the ban the box law on
the probability of repeat offending, the multivariate model developed in this study also
allows an assessment of the possible impact of other defendant characteristic variables.
If these additional variables are not controlled for, any observed relationship between
the implementation of the ban the box law and the probability of a felony defendant
possessing a prior criminal conviction might be spurious. These demographic variables
include sex, race, age, and criminal offense type. In regards to these demographic
characteristics, the majority of the criminal defendants were male and non-black. The
non-black category includes white and Asian criminal defendants. The average age of a
defendant is approximately 32 years old. Criminal offenses include murder, rape,
robbery, assault, other violent, burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft, other prop-
erty, weapons, and drugs. Approximately 28 % of the defendants were prosecuted for
drug offenses. The definitions, codings and means for all the variables used in the
analysis are reported in Table 1.
We use multivariate logistic regression to assess the effect of Hawaii’s ban the box law
on the probability that a criminal felony defendant has a prior criminal record. A
multivariate statistical procedure is required to ascertain whether the ban the box law
Tab l e 1 Description of Variables Used in the Analysis (N=890)
Variable Mean Definition
Repeat offending 0.69 Coded 1 if defendant was convicted previously, 0 otherwise.
Ban the box law 0.44 Coded 1 if current arrest occurred after the law was implemented in 1998
(2000, 2002 and 2004), 0 before law (1990, 1994 and 1996).
Male 0.82 Coded 1 if defendant is male, 0 female.
Black 0.09 Coded 1 if defendant is black, 0 otherwise.
Age 31.71 Age in years (range 18–64, SD 9.39).
Murder 0.02 Coded 1 if most serious arrest charge is murder or non-negligent
manslaughter, 0 otherwise.
Rape 0.04 Coded 1 if most serious arrest charge is forcible rape, 0 otherwise.
Robbery 0.04 Coded 1 if most serious arrest charge is armed or unarmed robbery, 0 otherwise.
Assault 0.10 Coded 1 if most serious arrest charge is aggravated assault, 0 otherwise.
Other violent 0.06 Coded 1 if most serious arrest charge is other violent, 0 otherwise.
Burglary 0.08 Coded 1 if most serious arrest charge is burglary, 0 otherwise.
Larceny-theft 0.16 Coded 1 if most serious arrest charge is larceny-theft, 0 otherwise.
Motor vehicle theft 0.11 Coded 1 if most serious arrest charge is motor vehicle theft, 0 otherwise.
Other property 0.06 Coded 1 if most serious arrest charge is forgery, fraud or other property, 0
Drugs 0.28 Coded 1 if most serious arrest charge is drug sales or drug-related, 0 otherwise.
Weapons 0.03 Coded 1 if most serious arrest charge is for weapons, 0 otherwise.
Data are derived from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (2007) State Court Processing Statistics, 1990–2004:
Felony Defendants in Large Urban Counties
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influenced the probability of repeat offending independently of other potentially salient
factors.Logistic regression is an appropriate statistical procedure for analyzing a
dichotomous dependent variable and it allows utilization of both categorical and
continuous independent variables. The regression coefficients from a logistic regression
can also be readily translated into easily interpretable odds indicating the change in the
likelihood of the dependent variable (probability of repeat offending) given a unit shift
in an independent variable, holding other variables constant. We use the 0.05 level of
significance for determining a salient relationship between an independent variable and
likelihood of repeat offending.
We began the descriptive analysis by constructing a diagram depicting the percent of
repeat felony offenders prosecuted in Honolulu from 1990 to 2004. The vertical line
shown in the figure represents the passing of the ban the box law in Hawaii in 1998.
Even a cursory glance at Fig. 1reveals a visually striking decline in the amount of
repeat felony offending between the pre- and postintervention ban the box periods. The
overall mean for repeat felony offending prior to the implementation of Hawaii’sban
the box law was 0.725. After the ban the box law was established, repeat felony
offending decreased in Honolulu by 11.4 % (mean= 0.642). These preliminary
findings imply that Hawaii’s ban the box law resulted in a substantial decline in
repeat offending among criminal defendants being prosecuted for felony crimes
in Honolulu County.
Tab le 2reports the results of the three logistic regression equations estimating the
influence of the control variables, the ban the box variable and ban the box X race
interaction variable on the likelihood of repeat offending. Model 1 is a baseline
equation that includes the effects of only the control variables. The effect of the ban
the box law is then tested by adding the dummy coded intervention variable to the
baseline logistic regression model. If the ban the box law lessened repeat offending by
Fig. 1 Percent felony defendants with prior convictions in Honolulu, Hawaii (N=890)
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improving the employment prospects of ex-offenders in Honolulu, we expect to find a
substantive negative coefficient for the ban the box intervention variable. The final
regression model investigates the possibility that the race of the defendant interacts with
the ban the box law in influencing repeat offending. Readers should place emphasis not
only on the level of statistical significance but also on the direction and magnitude of
the coefficients, as well as the consistency of a variable’s effect across the different
A visual inspection of the baseline model (Model 1 of Table 2) reveals that only
three of the 14 control variables reach statistical significance. These three pronounced
effects include whether a defendant is male, the age of the defendant and whether the
defendant was being prosecuted for rape. Male and older defendants are more apt to be
repeat offenders, while defendants being prosecuted for the crime of rape have a lower
probability of possessing a prior criminal conviction. None of the other variables are of
substantive importance in the equation.
In Model 2 of Table 2we add the dummy coded ban the box variable to the baseline
equation. Results for this model show a statistically discernible relationship between
Tab l e 2 Logistic Regression Models Estimating the Effect of Hawaii’s Ban the Box Law on the Probability
of Prior Conviction Among Felony Defendants in Honolulu, 1990–2004 (N=890)
Model 1 Controls Only Model 2 Add Law Model 3 Add Law x Black
Male 0.467 (0.206)* 0.467 (0.208)* 0.468 (0.208)*
Black 0.064 (0.284) 0.104 (0.286) 0.153 (0.409)
Age 0.061 (0.010)*** 0.065 (0.010)*** 0.065 (0.010)***
Murder -0.433 (0.978) -0.422 (0.979) -0.436 (0.982)
Rape −2.616 (0.890)** −2.458 (0.893)** −2.471 (0.896)**
Robbery −1.012 (0.869) -0.893 (0.871) -0.893 (0.871)
Assault −1.332 (0.826) −1.073 (0.830) −1.078 (0.831)
Other violent −1.646 (0.850) −1.447 (0.852) −1.448 (0.852)
Burglary -0.243 (0.860) -0.064 (0.862) -0.069 (0.863)
Larceny-theft -0.878 (0.810) -0.631 (0.814) -0.634 (0.814)
Motor vehicle theft -0.478 (0.825) -0.182 (0.830) -0.186 (0.831)
Other property −1.465 (0.841) −1.202 (0.845) −1.206 (0.846)
Drugs −1.024 (0.803) -0.784 (0.807) -0.789 (0.807)
Weapons -0.897 (0.928) -0.871 (0.928) -0.873 (0.928)
Ban the box law –-0.566 (169)*** -0.558 (177)**
LawXblack ––-0.096 (0.574)
Constant -0.455 -0.532 -0.533
0.127 0.145 0.145
−2 Log likelihood 907.91 896.61 896.58
Chi-square –11.298*** 0.028
*p≤0.05; **p≤0.01; ***p≤0.001 (two-tailed tests). Exp (B) and 95 % CIs for significant variables in Model
1: male 1.596 [1.065, 2.391], age 1.063 [1.042, 1.084], and rape 0.073 [0.013, 0.418]; Model 2: male 1.595
[1.060, 2.400], age 1.067 [1.046, 1.088], rape 0.086 [0.015, 0.493], and ban the box law 0.568 [0.407, 0.791];
Model 3: male 1.596 [1.061, 2.402], age 1.067 [1.046, 1.088], rape 0.085 [0.015, 0.490], and ban the box law
0.573 [0.405, 0.810]
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the dummy coded variable measuring the implementation of Hawaii’s ban the box law
and the likelihood of repeat offending. The coefficient for the ban the box variable is
statistically significant and is in the negative direction as theorized. The exponentiated
value of the dummy coded ban the box variable indicates that net of the other
independent variables included the equation the establishment of the ban the box law
lowered the odds of repeat offending by approximately 57 %. One can interpret this
effect as compelling evidence supporting the assertion that Hawaii’s ban the box
legislation reduced repeat felony offending to a substantial degree because criminal
defendants being prosecuted in Honolulu were much less apt to have a prior criminal
conviction following the implementation of the ban the box law, controlling for other
factors. The effects of the control variables are compatible with those reported in Model
1. In a comparison of fit between the baseline model and Model 2, a statistically
significant log-likelihood ratio test showed that the newly added dummy coded ban the
box intervention variable increased the model’s fit. This finding further reinforces the
conclusion that Hawaii’s ban the box law was effective in attenuating repeat felony
Another question of policy relevance is whether the race of the defendant moderates
the relationship between Hawaii’s ban the box law and repeat offending. Was there a
greater reduction in repeat offending among blacks than non-blacks following the
implementation of the ban the box legislation? One might speculate that the law’s
effect on repeat offending would be more pronounced for black ex-offenders because
the combination of minority status and a criminal record amplifies both social stigma
and employment discrimination (Pager, 2007). The most expedient method for detect-
ing such an interaction effect is to add a product term (offender’s race X ban the box
variable) to the model. The results of the analysis containing this multiplicative term,
which are reported in Model 3 of Table 2, reveal that the interaction between a
defendant’s race and the ban the box law variable did not produce a noteworthy
decrease in the likelihood of repeat offending. The ban the box law affected black
and non-black ex-offenders similarly. In sum, then, the results generated from the
multivariate logistic regression equations show convincing evidence that the imple-
mentation of Hawaii’s ban the box in 1998 reduced repeat offending in Honolulu and
that the law had a similar effect on the offending patterns of both black and white ex-
Our federal, state and local governments spend approximately $179 billion dollars on crime
control efforts yearly (Hughes, 2007). The private expenditure on crime prevention efforts
is estimated to be about 73 % higher than public expenditure (Cunningham, John, & Van
Meter, 1990). When one considers that the excessive costs associated with criminal activity
and the criminal justice system are so high and that a relative small number of individuals
are responsible for the majority of crime, then even a small reduction in repeat offending
would generate considerable monetary savings (Freeman, 1996).
The state legislature in Hawaii passed a ban the box law in 1998. This law was
rooted in two basic assumptions: (1) the social stigma of a criminal record hinders a
person’s ability to find employment and (2) the inability of ex-offenders to find work
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results in an escalation of their criminal activity. There is considerable empirical
evidence that a criminal record has salient adverse economic, political, educational
and health implications for individuals over the life-course (Pager, 2007). There is also
evidence that unemployment plays a noteworthy role in repeat offending (D’Alessio,
Stewart, Stolzenberg, & Eitle, 2013). However, if factors such as the lack of education
and job experience are the underlying cause of recidivism rather than discrimination by
employers, then Hawaii’s effort to make ex-offenders more employable by disallowing
employers to do background checks during the early stages of the hiring process would
Our analysis suggests that Hawaii’s ban the box law is on the right track. Even after
accounting for factors commonly associated with criminal offending, our results show
that felony offending among those possessing a prior criminal conviction was substan-
tially reduced in Honolulu following the implementation of Hawaii’s ban the box law.
Such a finding buttresses the view that the social stigma associated with a criminal
record does impact adversely the employment prospects of an individual, which
ultimately results in reoffending. Results also show that the reduction in repeat
offending was not more pronounced for blacks. The implementation of the law
influenced the reoffending of black and non-blacks similarly.
The implications of our findings are as follows. First, our findings are consistent
with the tenets of labeling theory and buttress the veracity of the often proffered claim
that individuals will respond positively to having the burden of a negative criminal
label removed from them. Second, it is asserted that in the absence of criminal record
background checks employers will simply use the racial characteristics of job appli-
cants to determine the likelihood that the applicant has a criminal record (Blumstein &
Nakamura, 2009; Holzer, Raphael, & Stoll, 2006). Such a situation is problematic for
black citizens lacking an official criminal record because of the widespread perception
that blacks are more criminally inclined than whites (Hurwitz & Peffley, 1997). This
perception might lead employers to view all black job applicants as potential criminals,
notwithstanding whether or not they actually have a criminal record. Although we did
not specifically examine the effect of the ban the box law on the employment prospects
of black job applicants generally, our results do show that repeat offending dropped
precipitously among both black and non-blacks following the implementation of
Hawaii’s ban the box law. This finding suggests that any negative impact of the law
on the employment prospects of black job applicants would probably be minimal at best.
Third, well-meaning purposive social action initiated by the government often has
unintended and detrimental ancillary effects for society. The criminal justice system
is replete with examples of well-intended governmental programs that had unantic-
ipated harmful outcomes (Rothman, 2002). Although repeat offending decreased
following the implementation of Hawaii’s ban the box law, criminal offending
among those individuals without a prior criminal conviction did show a marked
increase. This observed amplification in offending might be the due to a reduction in
deterrence because the stigma of a criminal conviction no longer hinders an indi-
vidual in the labor market (Rasmusen, 1996). A supplemental analysis (not reported)
revealed that criminal offending among individuals without a previous arrest did not
increase following the implementation of Hawaii’s ban the box law. However, there
was a notable escalation in crime among individuals who had a previous arrest but no
prior conviction. Future research needs to investigate the effect of ban the box laws
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on the offending patterns of these individuals to develop a better understanding of
the full ramifications of these types of laws. We leave this task to others.
Fourth, despite our results and the general public’s feeling that assisting ex-offenders
in finding work is necessary to successfully reintegrate them back into the community
(Travis, 2005), employers still believe that the use of criminal background checks to
identify and screen out potentially dangerous job applicants is crucial to attenuate their
vulnerability to civil law suits (Beaver, 1997). Thus, overcoming the opposition of
employers to any widespread governmental action that restricts the use of criminal
background checks to screen potential employees is a potential problem that will need
to be addressed (Gebo & Norton-Hawk, 2009).
Finally, because data availability restricted our analysis to a single county, the
findings reported here must be replicated before they can be accepted without question.
Future research should examine the effect of ban the box laws implemented elsewhere
on repeat offending. The more frequently such research is undertaken, the greater
confidence we can place in the generalizability of our findings.
The effect of ban the box laws on repeating offending is a salient question that is
raised frequently, but with scant empirical evidence on which to base definitive
answers. The purpose of this study was to help shed additional light on this issue.
Because our findings show that the implementation of Hawaii’s ban the law substan-
tially attenuated felony offending among individuals with a prior criminal conviction in
Honolulu County, policymakers should seriously consider implementing similar types
of legislation in other states so as to improve the job prospects of ex-offenders and
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Stewart J. D’Alessio is a Professor of Criminal Justice at Florida International University in Miami. He
received his Ph.D. in Criminology from Florida State University. His current research focuses on the National
Incident-Based Reporting System. His publications appear in a variety of scholarly journals, including the
American Sociological Review, Social Forces, Criminology, Social Problems, and Justice Quarterly.
Lisa Stolzenberg is Professor and Chair of the Department of Criminal Justice at Florida International
University. She earned her Ph.D. in Criminology from Florida State University. Her research examines the
effect of disparity and discrimination in criminal justice decision making and the impact of new laws and
policy initiatives aimed at regulating behavior, especially criminal behavior.
Jamie L. Flexon is an Associate Professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at Florida International
University. She received her Ph.D. in 2006 from the School of Criminal Justice, University at Albany. Her
primary interests involve the administration of capital punishment, the assessment of criminal justice policy
generally, and issues related to race, ethnicity and justice. Her work has appeared in various outlets including
International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, Crime & Delinquency, Journal of
Criminal Justice, Western Criminology Review, Justice Policy Journal, Victims & Offenders, among others.
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