Navigating the criminal records complex : hiring and job seeking in the inland empire

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2017-05

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Navigating the Criminal Records Complex: Hiring and Job Seeking in the Inland Empire is an urban ethnography that seeks to shed light on the problem of employer reluctance to hire workers with criminal convictions by analyzing how criminal history is considered in the hiring process. Set in Southern California’s Inland Empire, the study examines the attitudes and practices of business owners and human resource professionals alongside the labor market experiences of job seekers with criminal records and the advocates who assist them. While a significant body of sociological literature documents the scope of employer aversion to hiring applicants with criminal records, less is known about how individual, cultural and structural factors intersect to shape employers’ decisions. Using the qualitative methods of extended participant observation and interviews, this research sets employers’ subjectivity (including values, beliefs and racial attitudes) and specific business concerns against the backdrop a political-economic climate characterized by regulation, risk-aversion, competition and litigation. Overall, the study furthers understanding of how gendered and classed racism gets reproduced as a socially structured reality through processes of criminalization. It interrogates the role of the state in legislating the exclusion of criminalized peoples and fueling a burgeoning, for-profit background screening industry. In so doing, this study reveals that despite its presentation as value-neutral, criminal records screening functions as a significant mechanism of racial and economic stratification.

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