ILR conference examines how criminal records affect hiring

The difficulty of finding a job in the current economy when a candidate has the additional handicap of a criminal record was the focus at the Richard Netter Conference on "Race, Criminal Records and Employment: Legal Practice and Social Science Research" Oct. 9 in New York City.

"This conference presented all sides, with advocates for those with criminal records hearing the concerns of management attorneys, and both learning how unions deal with the issue," said Esta R. Bigler '70, director of the Labor and Employment Law Program at the ILR School. She noted that the conference sought to begin a dialogue on research, public policy and advocacy surrounding how criminal records affect employment.

The event drew lawyers from public advocacy groups and private law firms, social scientists, scholars and community activists. "The social scientists learned how their work is being interpreted and used, and the attorneys learned firsthand the latest findings of social scientists," Bigler said.

As the national unemployment rate has risen through the years, criminal records have had increasingly critical consequences for job seekers. "One of the emerging legal issues confronted by employment experts and community activists alike was how criminal convictions can have lifelong consequences resulting in workplace discrimination," said Bigler, who organized the conference with ILR professor Pamela Tolbert and Adam Klein '87.

For example, the research of Carnegie Mellon professor Alfred Blumstein '51, Ph.D. '60, showed that a person who commits a burglary at age 18 will pose no greater risk of committing a crime 3.8 years after being arrested than a person in the general population -- an important finding for employers.

Devah Pager of Princeton University presented research demonstrating that employers are more likely to hire a white man with a criminal record than a black man who has no criminal record.

Lawyer Jim Harmon discussed the case of decorated war veteran Osvaldo Hernandez, who served in Afghanistan and wants to become a New York City police officer but has a felony conviction. Hernandez had been on reserve status following his discharge but was recently recalled to active duty. Hernandez is being deployed again, this time to Iraq.

Deputy Undersecretary for Military Personnel Policy Bill Carr spoke about misconduct waiver trends and data regarding convicted felons in the military enlistment process. Waivers are granted on a case-by-case basis to "individuals who are fully qualified to serve." Assessment is made of, among other things, the circumstances related to the person's conviction, the time that elapsed from the crime to enlistment, the person's character following their release and community support.

Marlen Bodden, an employment law specialist with the Legal Aid Society, said "As a practicing attorney, I found the conference extremely helpful. I learned about the latest statistics and ground-breaking research studies on discrimination."

The conference is named in honor of the late Richard Netter '39, J.D. '41, a longtime advocate for human and civil rights. Conference presentations are available online at

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