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Credentialing Decisions And Criminal Records: A Narrative Approach*


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--- - |2 Abstract Decision makers such as employers and state occupational licensing officials are often encouraged or required to incorporate evidence of rehabilitation into hiring decisions when applicants have criminal records. Current policy movements at the local, state, and federal levels may increase the use of such individualized assessments. Yet little is known about which types of information these decision makers use, how they evaluate evidence, and how they ultimately make determinations. We examine a sample of 50 unarmed security guard licensing decisions in New York State using content analysis. We find that administrative law judges rely on a narrative framework to document whether applicants currently have a prosocial identity and merit licensure. Judges typically describe one of two prosocial identity narratives for successful applicants: The applicant demonstrates achieving meaningful change, or his or her criminal record represents an aberration. Two factors seem vital to these assessments: applicants’ postconviction trustworthiness, as demonstrated through good conduct or inferred through positive appraisals, and credible testimony. In narrative explanations, personal responsibility and adult milestones are often discussed, reflecting a judicial nod to the notion of a “transition to adulthood.” The results hold implications for scholars and policy makers examining employment barriers, stigma remediation, and collateral sanctions for individuals with criminal records. - Criminology, EarlyView.