Ban the Box: Giving Offenders a Fair Chance

“Ban the Box”

The National Employment Law Project (2014) estimates that 70 million Americans—one in four—adults have a criminal record. The majority of employers include questions about a person’s criminal background on their job applications and they use it to screen out applicant with a criminal history. “Ban the Box” or “Second Chance” is a movement to eliminate questions about criminal backgrounds from public employment applications. The goal of the movement is to defer a job applicant’s criminal background check until the applicant has been selected for an interview. The Legal Services for Prisoners with Children supports removing the box from applications for housing, public benefits, insurance, loans, and other services, too. In addition, proponents believe that this law should be extended to include private employers.

Benefits of “Ban the Box”

There are several benefits to adopting ban the box laws. First, it eliminates discrimination against individuals with prior criminal histories based solely on one global question. Removal of the box allows those with a criminal history to remain in consideration for the job at which time they have the opportunity to explain their criminal histories to potential employers. Second, it does not prevent employers for conducting criminal background checks on individuals before they are actually hired. However, if they applicant is otherwise qualified for the position, the hope is that employers will ultimately hire the applicant. Finally, employers working with protected or vulnerable populations (e.g., jobs working with children or the elderly) are exempt from the law. In other words, the law is a middle ground compromise that increases the odds that those with criminal records will be treated fairly during the employment process while simultaneously protecting the public.

Why Should We Care?

Offenders face significant obstacles once they are released from prison, with employment being a major one. We know that employment is an important component of successful prisoner reentry. For example, research shows that employment significantly reduces the likelihood of reoffending (Latessa, 2012; Morenoff and Harding, 2011; Visher, Debus, and Yahner, 2008) and success on parole (National Institute of Health, 2010). Therefore, the ban the box law increases the odds that those with a criminal record may find employment and reduce the likelihood that they commit future offenses.

Major U.S Cities and Counties that Banned the Box

California*

Connecticut*

Colorado*

Delaware*

Georgia

Florida

Kentucky

Illinois*

Indiana

Louisiana

Maryland*

Massachusetts*

Michigan

Minnesota*

Missouri

Nebraska*

New Hampshire*

New Jersey

New Mexico*

New York

North Carolina

Ohio

Oregon

Pennsylvania

Rhode Island*

Tennessee

Texas

Virginia

Washington

Wisconsin

*States that have legislation or administrative orders to ban the box

References

Latessa, E. J. (2012). Why work is important and how to improve the effectiveness of correctional reentry programs that target employment. Criminology and Public Policy, 11(1), 87-91.

Morenoff, J. D. and Harding, D. J. (2011). Final Technical Report: Neighborhoods, Recidivism, and Employment Among Returning Prisoners. Washington, D.C.: National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice.

National Employment Law Project. (2014). Statewide ban the box reducing unfair barriers to employment of people with criminal records. Retrieved from http://nelp.3cdn.net/51c633b5eb9f412b88_q4m6vu7ia.pdf.

National Institute of Corrections. (2010). Is employment associated with reduced recidivism? The complex relationship between employment and crime. Washington, D.C.: National Institute of Corrections.

Visher, C., Debus, S., and Yahner, J. (2004). Employment after prison: A longitudinal study of releases in three states. Washington, D.C.: Urban Institute.

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