With over 2 million individuals currently incarcerated, and over half a million prisoners released each year, the large and growing number of men being processed through the criminal justice system raises important questions about the consequences of this massive institutional intervention. This article focuses on the consequences of incarceration for the employment outcomes of black and white job seekers. The present study adopts an experimental audit approach—in which matched pairs of individuals applied for real entry-level jobs—to formally test the degree to which a criminal record affects subsequent employment opportunities. The findings of this study reveal an important, and much underrecognized, mechanism of stratification. A criminal record presents a major barrier to employment, with important implications for racial disparities.
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