Criminal stigma, race, and ethnicity: The consequences of imprisonment for employment

Scott H. Decker*, Natalie Ortiz, Cassia Spohn, Eric Hedberg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

125 Scopus citations


The purpose of this paper is to assess the role of race/ethnicity and prior prison sentences on employment opportunities. Secondarily, we compare the impact of applying for jobs (in-person and online), and the role of education in securing employment. This work was conducted in a large southwestern city (Phoenix AZ) with high rates of imprisonment for blacks and Hispanics. Methods: First, an audit test involving matched pairs of males within race/ethnicity categories (black, Hispanic, white) who applied for jobs in-person was conducted. More than 500 jobs were applied for by the audit testers. Second, a correspondence test was conducted using three pairs of résumés matched within race/ethnicity. In the correspondence test, over 3,000 jobs were applied for online. Each test used random assignment. Because of its importance for entry level employment, a separate analysis of food service jobs applied for online was conducted. Results: Both sets of analyses were completed using cross-classified random effects (CCRE) models. Contrary to expectations, neither race/ethnicity nor prior prison record affected outcomes in the online application process. In contrast, both race/ethnicity and prison record had significant effects in the in-person audit analysis. The effect of a prison record was particularly strong for blacks. Conclusions: Race/ethnicity and prior prison sentence remain important impediments to success in gaining employment. These results are particularly strong for in-person job applications and are somewhat smaller for online job applications.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)108-121
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Criminal Justice
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Applied Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Law


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