Photo taken from: NY Times
“When I answer that question honestly, I never get a call back,” she said. “I feel like I’m still paying for my crimes 20 years later.”
Marilyn Scales, 52, a New York City resident convicted of selling drugs in the 1990s, says that telling the truth on job forms had made her virtually unemployable, even though she was released from prison 17 years ago.
On Thursday, October 23rd, an article called “A Plan to Cut Costs and Crime: End Hurdle to Job After Prison,” was published by the New York Times. This article discussed the barriers within employment after being released from prison and the goals of the Ban the Box laws. The article focuses on the personal experiences of several people with criminal records that are prevented from moving on with their lives after serving their sentences and even after decades of being back in society. They describe James White – a man who was turned down for a job as a hospital janitor, immediately after checking the box to mark that he had been convicted of a crime–despite the fact that he had only been convicted of possessing a handgun without a license, 10 years earlier, and had never served jail time.
This summer, Washington’s city council took a step towards positive change by approving the Ban the Box laws, legislation that will forbid public (and some private) employers from asking about criminal history on a job application and running criminal background checks until after the initial steps. This legislation will also include movements to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana, to expunge the criminal records of nonviolent offenders, and to reassess parole and probation rules. Washington; Illinois; Nebraska; New Jersey; Indianapolis; Louisville, Kentucky; New Orleans; Minnesota; Massachusetts; and San Francisco are all states and cities that have adopted the Ban the Box laws within the past four years. Legislation like Ban the Box is vital in easing the re-entry process and will help to de-marginalize people, especially disproportionate numbers of African-Americans. This legislation will also aid the cut of corrections costs being forced in many cities and states across the country.
Finding a solution to the lack of opportunity for people with a criminal conviction history and to the increased recidivism rates has become an urgent issue, as one in three American adults have been arrested throughout their lives and the United States has the largest prison population in the world. People who are forced to check the box, admitting that they have a criminal conviction history, are far more likely to be turned down for jobs; although, past research has shown that people with a criminal record are no more likely to commit a crime in their workplace than people without a criminal record. Early research surveys conducted show that fewer job applicants with a criminal history have been rejected in cities that have passed Ban the Box legislation.
“If we are going to block their path and not give them options to reintegrate — if they can’t get a job and the opportunity to earn a livelihood — what alternative do they have?” said Jim Scheer, a Republican state senator from Nebraska who describes himself as tough on crime but was still an outspoken advocate of the state’s Ban the Box law, approved 46-to-0 in April.
Root & Rebound has spoken about Ban the Box in earlier posts, celebrating the passing of AB 109 which now prevents public employers in CA from asking questions about a person’s convictions from their initial job applications and companies like Target which are also ‘banning the box’ on their application forms. We are excited to see more cities and states take legal action to reduce employment barriers for people with criminal records, to ensure they can become productive, fulfilled members of society upon release.
*See Root & Rebound’s Guide for Employers to find out more about the legal shift that is taking place to promote the hiring of people with records and all of the laws and best practices that employers should follow to protect every job applicant’s civil rights and privacy rights. The guide also provides useful advice for employers on how to take care of their companies by mitigating general risk and purchasing insurance, and how to utilize the benefits and incentives offered to employers who hire people with criminal records.