Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Let's Ban the Box

the box

An 18-year-old gets mixed up with the wrong crowd, gets arrested on a marijuana charge, sent to jail for 6 months, and pays the price forever.  This is happening so often that, in an interview at Taco Bell, a friend of my son's was told, "Oh, everybody we interview has a felony!"  But, needless to say, this kid didn't get a job.  Nor will he be able to rent an apartment.  Or vote when he's old enough to understand how our political system works.  His life will always be compromised because of one stupid night when he was 18.  Finally, states and corporations are recognizing that this is a counterproductive approach.  If  these folks are given a chance, they can be productive citizens, pay taxes, buy houses, raise a family, and not end up back in jail.  This article in the NY Times explains.

"Sanctions that make it more difficult for ex-offenders to obtain jobs, housing and even basic documents like drivers’ licenses only serve to drive them back to jail. With that in mind, a growing number of states and municipalities now prohibit public agencies — and in some cases private employers — from asking about a job applicant’s criminal history until the applicant reaches the interview stage or gets a conditional job offer. These eminently sensible “ban the box” laws are intended to let ex-offenders prove their qualifications before criminal history issues enter the equation.

Earlier this year Minnesota extended its existing law to cover private employers. Now, the Minneapolis-based Target Corporation, one of the nation’s largest employers, has announced that it will remove questions about criminal history from its job applications throughout the country. The announcement represents an important victory for the grassroots community group TakeAction Minnesota, which had been pressuring the company to change.

This comes on the heels of a similar development earlier this month in California, where Gov. Jerry Brown signed a ban-the-box bill that applies to government employers. The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission gave this movement a lift last year, when it expanded and updated a ruling that barred employers from automatically denying people jobs based on arrest or conviction records. The E.E.O.C. guidance made clearthat an arrest alone is not proof of illegal conduct or grounds for exclusion from employment. It also explained that employers need to take into account the seriousness of the offense, the time that has passed since it was committed and the relevance of the crime to the job being sought. Given that 65 million Americans now have criminal records, that reminder is crucial."

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