Although in many states juvenile criminal records are supposed to be sealed once the juvenile turns 18, this is not always consistently done. There is a significant amount of research looking at the negative effects of having a criminal record; however, there is little research looking specifically at the perception of a juvenile record. The juvenile justice system has a goal of rehabilitation and re-entry, but it is possible that lasting criminal records from youth can perpetuate the stigma held by society against justice-involved persons. Even though about a third of Americans have criminal records, the stigma against them is still prevalent.
In the study “Employer perceptions of hiring Juveniles with criminal records,” Clark and colleagues set out to explore employer willingness to hire applicants with juvenile records. Specifically, they hypothesized that employer attitudes toward juvenile applicants with a criminal record will be more negative than juvenile applicants without a record. Researchers also wanted to explore the types of employers that may be more likely to hire juvenile applicants with a criminal background, and whether there were skills or experiences that these employers might look for in these applicants. Researchers sampled 98 Arizona businesses, half of which represented the health care industry, manufacturing, and construction. The first part of the survey consisted of employers evaluating a hypothetical entry-level applicant. A third of employers saw an applicant without a record, a third saw an applicant with a nonviolent conviction, and the final third read about an applicant with a violent conviction. Next, all employers completed questions asking whether various qualifications or skills would increase their likelihood of interviewing their respective applicants. Finally, they completed demographic questions. Upon debriefing, researchers asked employers their opinions on hiring applicants with juvenile records.
The results showed support for hypotheses; namely, that employers were less likely to interview juvenile applicants with a record, and that was exacerbated by violent convictions. Employers reported a 69.6% chance of hiring applicants without a record; however, that chance dropped to 51.1% for those with a record. Of those employers that indicated they would interview an applicant with a juvenile conviction, only 39.9% were willing to extend an interview to applicants with a violent juvenile conviction. Employers in the financial sector were less likely to interview an applicant with any record, while education organizations were more likely to offer these applicants an interview. When employers were asked to consider skills that may increase their likelihood of offering applicants with a record an interview, seven attributes were found to have a slight benefit: passing a drug test, graduating high school, passing a background check, having references from within the industry, and having a driver’s license. These attributes slightly increased the chance for both violent and nonviolent offenses.
The ability for the juvenile justice system to fulfill its goal of rehabilitation is hindered when a juvenile’s record follows them into adulthood. These results show that juvenile applicants are penalized in the hiring process if they have a conviction on their record, but more research must be done on how these records could follow a juvenile into adulthood. Specifically, what would employers do when faced with choosing between applicants with a juvenile record versus an adult record? Does this effect carry across races, or are minority applicants more penalized? These questions only scratch the surface of understanding how to successfully implement rehabilitation.