Current Research


Denver, Megan, Justin T. Pickett, and Shawn D. Bushway. Criminal Records and Employment: A Survey of Experiences and Attitudes in the United States. (Online FirstJustice Quarterly)

  • Ban-the-Box (BTB) legislation, which bans employers from asking about criminal history records on the initial job application, is arguably the most prominent policy arising from the prisoner reentry movement. BTB policies assume: 1) most employers ask about criminal records, and 2) inquiries occur at the application stage. However, we lack reliable information about the validity of these assumptions or about public attitudes towards criminal background checks, which limits our understanding of the potential scope of this innovative policy. Using survey data from a national probability sample, we estimate that in the past year, over 31 million U.S. adults were asked about a criminal record on a job application. According to our survey, virtually all of the criminal record inquiries occurred at the application stage, highlighting the potential of BTB. However, we also found that the public is sharply divided on whether to prevent employers from asking on applications, as per BTB.


Denver, Megan, Justin T. Pickett, and Shawn D. Bushway. 2017. The Language of Stigmatization and the Mark of Violence: Experimental Evidence on the Social Construction and Use of Criminal Record Stigma. Criminology 55(3): 664-90.

  • Inspired in part by a 2016 U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) policy that replaces crime-first terms like “offender” with person-first terms such as “person with a conviction,” this study examines the social construction and management of criminal record stigma. First, we test DOJ’s language policy with experimental data from a nationally representative sample of American adults. Next, we use a separate nationwide experiment to examine how the contextualization of criminal records influences social exclusion decisions. We find consistent evidence of a “mark of violence”: the public perceives that individuals with violent convictions are the most likely to commit future crimes, and is more supportive of excluding these individuals from employment. Furthermore, crime-first terms exacerbate perceived recidivism risk for individuals with violent convictions.


Denver, Megan, Garima Siwach, and Shawn D. Bushway. 2017. A New Look at the Employment and Recidivism Relationship through the Lens of a Criminal Background Check. Criminology 55(1): 174-204.

  • We estimate the causal impact of passing a criminal background check (or being “cleared” to work) on subsequent arrests for individuals with criminal records who have been provisionally hired to work in nonlicensed, direct access healthcare jobs in New York State (N = 6,648). We find a 4.2 percentage point decrease in the likelihood of a subsequent arrest over 3 years. In addition, approximately 70% of the individuals in our sample are women, and we find that the main effect is driven by men.
  • In February 2017, I presented the results from this paper and our team’s related work to practitioners from 26 grantee states participating in the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ National Background Check Program.


Denver, Megan. 2017. Evaluating the Impact of “Old” Criminal Conviction Decision Guidelines on Subsequent Employment and Arrest OutcomesJournal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 54(3): 379–408.

  • In this study I test the impact of being cleared to work due to a “10 years since last conviction guideline” on subsequent employment and recidivism outcomes. The paper was awarded 3rd place in the American Society of Criminology’s 2016 Gene Carte student paper competition. I was excited to celebrate in New Orleans with the other Gene Carte recipients and fellow UAlbany students, Sean Roche, Dean Weld, and Eric Fowler!



(For additional research, click here.)