Lawson: Banning the Box is vital to criminal justice system reform

Angelica Lawson

An equal opportunity employer takes on new meaning when you no longer have to identify if you have a criminal record. The goal of the Ban the Box campaign is to remove the box on job applications that force people to state if they have a criminal record. The removal gives people a fair chance at employment after their release.

Ban the Box is a campaign that was started by formerly incarcerated men, women and their families to level the playing field and help eliminate bias based on charges they have already served time for. Several applications include a line that asks if the applicant has ever been convicted of a crime. When you are a person who has to check this box, flags are raised, and opinions are formed right from the get-go without any background information.

Through the adoption of Banning the Box, people are no longer being penalized for their past and being judged in their present.

There are now 45 cities and counties that have adopted this anti-discrimination policy, which has been implemented in cities such as New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit and San Francisco. In total, it has reached seven states.

According to the White House, President Obama announced Nov. 2 that his administration would enact legislation to eliminate requirements for human resource departments asking applicants what their criminal history is until later on in the application process. This will prevent applicants from being written off right away for having a record, thus giving them the opportunity to be considered for a job just as someone without a record would.

The reason Ban the Box has become a nationwide movement is to help eliminate the cultural bias that has been adopted against men and women who have been incarcerated.

It is no secret that Obama has made it one of his missions during his time as president to fight for criminal justice reform. This past July, he made history as the first sitting president to visit an American prison.

Employers have openly discriminated against people with criminal pasts, and this is understandable to a certain level. Employers want to know who they could be potentially letting into their company, but this judgment has been premature. Applicants are being judged literally on paper, and if they do have a record, they will never have the opportunity to show what they could bring to a company in spite of their criminal history.

These men and women often have a difficult time finding work after they have been released from incarceration. According to a study done by the National Institute of Justice, 60-75 percent of people who are released from incarceration are jobless for up to one year after being released.

In a study conducted in New York City, it was also found that if an applicant checked yes to having a criminal record, that individual was 50 percent less likely to get called back in for a second interview or meeting in the application process.

Through the adoption of Ban the Box, people who have paid their debt to society will rightfully be afforded better opportunities, ultimately helping society by adding to our workforce.

There are many people who are opposed to this campaign because they do not understand why it is “our” job to help the criminals. To that I say, isn’t the whole point of sending someone to jail or prison not only to punish this person for making poor choices but also to give him or her the tools and motivation to be a productive member of society? I am not sure how we can expect people to move beyond their pasts if we do not give them the opportunity to do better outside of jail or prison.

We have to eliminate the bias against men and women with criminal records so we can lower the amount of people who return to a incarcerated life because they could not find a job or do not have a place to live and turned back to criminal actives.

Additionally, it is a requirement for anyone on parole to have a job and somewhere to live. By writing off applicants right away because they have a record, it undermines the efforts they made in prison to be granted parole. The current structure almost ensures a return to prison for parolees: Get out on parole, can’t find a job to meet requirements, go back to jail.

If we cannot aid in the elimination of this bias, we are engaging in a vicious cycle of imprisonment by giving people a disadvantage to turn their life around.