*R Street’s Jonathan Haggerty and Rachel Liebman of Impact Justice were coauthors of this study. 

The booming gig economy offers a unique and promising industry for formerly incarcerated persons to find stable work. However, threats from state and local policymakers to mandate that firms in this industry use fingerprint-based background checks to vet workers could stifle reentry.

Top Points:

  • Whereas some local jurisdictions have attempted to mandate fingerprint-based checks for on-demand economy companies, firms like Uber and Lyft have been committed to using name-based checks due to the additional cost and time associated with full fingerprint scans
  • FBI fingerprint background checks have considerable limitations and inaccuracies. The National Employment Law Project (NELP) estimates that up to 600,000 people per year face undue prejudice because of inaccurate information in the FBI database.
  • Not every criminal record is associated with a fingerprint, so relying on the FBI’s database for employment vetting would likely miss a substantial number of records.
  • As many as 50 percent of records do not include the final disposition of any charges. As a result, individuals who are arrested but never convicted, those who have a charge dropped from a felony to a misdemeanor or those who have their record expunged may be wrongfully prohibited from holding a job.
  • Studies show a strong correlation between unemployment and recidivism. In fact, unemployed offenders are more than twice as likely to end up back in prison compared to their employed counterparts.
  • Recent research indicates that the sooner ex-offenders can secure employment, the less likely they are to reoffend. Policies that unduly weed out a significant number of applicants who are particularly vulnerable to resorting to criminal activity could harm public safety and impose significant taxpayer costs related to recidivism.
  • Policies that exclude ex-offenders from the labor market conflict with American values of redemption and due process. After an individual has repaid his debt to society, continuing to punish him for his mistakes raises serious moral concerns.
  • Criminal background checks for employment purposes—whether name or fingerprint-based—have grown dramatically in recent years.
  • Still, various case studies and empirical research demonstrates that job applicants who have been incarcerated represent particularly productive and loyal employees.


Image credit: Fotomay