Current Research


I’d be happy to send a copy of an article listed below if you don’t have subscription access or the article is forthcoming; just send me an email (


Denver, Megan and Alec Ewald. (Forthcoming) Credentialing Decisions and Criminal Records: A Narrative Approach. Criminology.

  • Employers and state occupational licensing officials are often encouraged or required to incorporate evidence of rehabilitation into hiring decisions for applicants with criminal records. Yet relatively little is known about which types of information decision makers use, how they evaluate evidence, and how they ultimately make determinations. In this study, we conduct a content analysis of 50 unarmed security guard licensing decisions in New York State.
  • Findings: Administrative law judges utilize a narrative framework to document whether applicants currently have a prosocial identity and merit licensure. Judges typically describe one of two narratives for successful applicants: the applicant demonstrates achieving meaningful change, or the criminal record represents an aberration in an otherwise prosocial identity. 
    • Two factors appear key to these assessments: applicants’ post-conviction trustworthiness, as demonstrated through good conduct or inferred through positive appraisals, and credible testimony. Narrative explanations also often discuss personal responsibility and adult milestones, reflecting a judicial nod to the notion of a “transition to adulthood.”
  • In May 2018 I presented some of the findings from this research in a seminar at the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC).


In April 2018, I was fortunate to join an excellent roundtable hosted by the Stanford Criminal Justice Center on criminal record barriers to the legal profession, including law school admissions and the moral character requirement for the bar. You can check out some of the Center’s current projects here.



Lageson, Sarah, Megan Denver and Justin T. Pickett. (Forthcoming)  Privatizing Criminal Stigma: Experience, Intergroup Contact, and Public Views about Publicizing Arrest RecordsPunishment & Society.

  • Current U.S. policy allows private companies to publish arrest records, although little is known about active online searches for criminal records or whether the public supports these policies. Using two large public opinion surveys, we find that approximately 15% of Americans searched online for conviction records last year (an estimated 38 million people), but a strong majority (88%) oppose the publication of arrest records by private companies. High-quality interpersonal contact with an arrestee diminishes support for publicizing arrest records and also tempers views of recidivism risk for those with nonviolent convictions. 


Denver, Megan, Justin T. Pickett, and Shawn D. Bushway. 2018. Criminal Records and Employment: A Survey of Experiences and Attitudes in the United States. Justice Quarterly 35(4): 584-613.

  • Ban-the-Box (BTB) policies, which ban employers from asking about criminal history records on initial job applications, assume: 1) most employers ask about criminal records, and 2) inquiries occur at the application stage. In this study, we consider these underlying assumptions and public attitudes towards criminal background checks. 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. Virtually all of these inquiries occurred at the application stage, highlighting the potential of BTB. However, the public is also divided on whether to prevent employers from asking on applications.


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.

  • We test a 2016 U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) policy that replaces crime-first terms (e.g., “offender”) with person-first terms (“person with a conviction”) using experimental data from a nationally representative sample of American adults. We then 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 those with violent convictions as the most likely to commit future crimes, and is more supportive of excluding this group from employment. In addition, 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 people with criminal records who have been provisionally hired to work in direct access healthcare jobs in New York State (N = 6,648). Using an instrumental variable approach, we find around a four percentage point decrease in the likelihood of subsequent arrest over three years.
  • In February 2017, I presented the results from this paper and 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.

  • This study tests 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.