A coalition of groups delivered a national petition with 130,000 signatures this week to the White House, calling on President Obama to remove the conviction history check-box from federal agency/contractor job applications, an effort better known as “Ban the Box.”
Even before the formerly incarcerated have a chance to apply for jobs, they face a range of legalized discrimination that keeps them cut off from mainstream society and the economy.
The coalition of groups includes Color of Change, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, All of Us or None, V.O.T.E., ACLU, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, PICO, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, The National Reentry Network for Returning Citizens, Racial Justice Action Center, and MoveOn.org
There are currently 44,000 laws on the books that prevent people with records in this country from re-integrating into their communities after serving time, which is key to reducing recidivism. Employment offers a pathway out of poverty for many low-income families living on a single or severely limited income.
Research shows a white male with a criminal record is more likely to find a job than a Black male without one. Coupled with the employment discrimination that Black job seekers face even without a criminal record, these hiring policies create an insurmountable obstacle for returning citizens.
Despite repeated calls throughout his entire presidency, President Obama has yet to take executive action against the employment discrimination that formerly incarcerated individuals face after they have served their time. Federal agencies and the companies they contract with can still require job applicants with a criminal record to check a box indicating that they have been convicted.
Senator Cory Booker introduced the Fair Chance Act, which implements some of the “Ban the Box” policies; however, it does not enact consequences for employers who discriminate. Ban the Box campaigners want a “washout period” that limits the length of time that employers can consider a past conviction.
Dorsey Nunn, executive director of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children and co-founder of All of Us or None, discusses how the Ban the Box campaign began and has grown during the last decade.
“When I got out of prison 30 years ago, the only job I could get took me right back inside the gates of San Quentin, where I helped inmates through the prison’s law office,” said Nunn.
“What I witnessed 30 years ago is still happening now: that small box on job applications that asks have you ever been convicted of a crime continues to make it tough for formerly incarcerated folks to get a job.”
“When I checked in with people asking how their job searches were going, it was always the same answer: checking “yes” on that box meant their job application was tossed aside. Then, one day when I went to Jack in the Box for lunch, the guy behind the counter had tattoos all over his arms, tattoos I had seen on prisoners.
“I asked him how he got this job and found out that Jack in the Box did not ask potential employees about their criminal records,” he recalled.
“So 11 years ago, All of Us or None, the organization I co-founded, started the campaign called ‘Ban the Box’ to give formerly Incarcerated people a better chance at getting a job – so they can provide for themselves and their families, and fully reenter society.”
“We’ve been successful at winning “Ban the Box” campaigns in 13 states and nearly 70 cities and counties. Now we think it’s time for the federal government to weigh in.”