Target, Nation’s Second-Largest Retailer, Drops Criminal History Question from Employment Applications


The Target Corporation, one of the nation’s largest employers, will remove questions about criminal history from its job applications nationwide.

Mass incarceration in the United States has dramatically increased the number of working-age Americans who have criminal records. In 1991, only 1.8 percent of adults had served time in prison; but by 2007, 1 in every 31 Americans were on probation or parole, in prison, or in jail. Sixty-five million Americans now have criminal records.

Being employed substantially reduces the risk of recidivism, but studies by the National Institute of Justice show that finding a job after being incarcerated is one of the most difficult tasks facing former offenders because most employers are reluctant to hire applicants with criminal records. In New York City, for example, a criminal record reduced the likelihood of a callback or job offer by nearly 50 percent. The negative effect of a criminal record for Black applicants was double that for white applicants.

Employment prospects improve when applicants interact with the hiring manager. To let ex-offenders prove their qualifications before addressing criminal history issues, ten states and more than fifty American cities have passed “Ban the Box” legislation, which prohibits public agencies, and sometimes private employers, from asking about a job applicant’s criminal history until he or she gets an interview or a conditional job offer. Minnesota recently expanded its “Ban the Box” law to cover private employers.

And last year, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) expanded a ruling that bars employers from automatically denying people jobs based on arrest or conviction records. It made clear that an arrest alone is not grounds for exclusion from employment and requires employers to consider the seriousness of the offense, the time that has passed since it was committed, and the relevance of the crime to the job being sought.

Target, based in Minneapolis, will stop asking prospective employees about their criminal records in initial job applications at all of its U.S. stores. The company also is committed to hiring more former offenders. Vice president Mark Haase of the Minnesota-based Council on Crime and Justice, which will receive $100,000 in support from Target, said, “Not only is Target complying with the new law here, they are doing the right thing around the country by giving people the opportunity to be judged for their skills and qualifications first.”