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Ban the Box: Let’s give returning citizens a fairer chance to get hired

Congressman Hansen Clarke (D-MI)

For many people who have been convicted of a crime, the end of the sentence is the start of a new kind of punishment.  Millions of citizens convicted of a misdemeanor or a felony face years or even decades of joblessness, often leading to hopelessness, more crime, and imprisonment.

It’s time to break this ugly cycle of incarceration.

Guaranteeing that every person has a high-quality education is the best way to end the school-to-prison pipeline and ensure that metro Detroiters have the opportunity to pursue their dreams and provide for their families. Yet a misdemeanor or felony conviction can destroy an individual’s chances at employment. Employers often include a “box” on job applications that candidates are required to check if they have a conviction on their record. Once employers have this information, they frequently remove those candidates from consideration in the first round of the hiring process, even for minor convictions unrelated to the employment.

One in four adults now has an arrest or conviction record, and in less than thirty years, the U.S. prison population has increased by a factor of seven. At the same time, the percentage of employers screening job applicants by asking if they have ever been convicted of a crime has increased dramatically. A majority of the nation’s 65 million people with criminal records are people of color, so communities of color are among those most impacted by these employment practices.  Worse, when Black applicants with criminal records have the same job credentials as white applicants with criminal records, they are four times less likely to get an initial job interview.

While it is understandable that companies want to hire responsible and skilled workers, there are many Americans with criminal records who have the competence and character to succeed.  The practice of screening for criminal history in the first round of the application process makes it all but impossible for returning citizens to get their lives back on track, and harms employers by removing talented people from consideration.  By eliminating many Americans’ hopes of ever finding a job, this practice only increases poverty and crime.

There is a better way.

I have introduced the Ban the Box Act of 2012, H.R. 6220, in the U.S. Congress to empower returning citizens to find quality jobs while still meeting the needs of employers.  This legislation builds on successful laws that have passed–thanks to the power of the people–in cities and states across the country.  It would ban most employers from asking job applicants about their criminal histories until they have received a conditional job offer.  Employers like schools or police departments would be eligible for an exemption from delayed criminal background checks to ensure that public safety is preserved.

Let’s be clear about the rightful purpose of our criminal justice system: to get people out of crime and into productive work and fulfilling lives.  Banning the box will help prevent men and women from being boxed out of the job market and will give them a real chance to secure meaningful employment.

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