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Applying for a Second Chance

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Ban the Box advocates for policy changes in the hiring process for the formerly incarcerated.

The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world, with over two million people behind bars. For those who have served their time and are released, reintegration into society can be full of obstacles. One particularly challenging barrier is in getting hired. The majority of job applications ask potential employees if they have ever been convicted of a felony, a category which includes numerous nonviolent crimes.

All of Us or None is an organization which established a campaign called Ban the Box. The campaign is working to eliminate this question (and its accompanying check box) from applications. Those involved, including formerly incarcerated individuals and local agencies recognize the structural discrimination that surrounds a past conviction. Additionally they believe that having access to a job can greatly reduce the risk of going back to prison as employment provides economic security and a sense of contributing to society.

Due in part to the campaign’s advocacy, as of today, applicants in California will no longer be required to divulge this information when initially applying to public positions. California joins nine other states where there are bans on asking about past convictions. Jesse Stout, the policy director for Legal Services for Prisoners with Children says, “There’s a growing societal consensus in our state, California, and country that punishment is not a compelling societal goal in and of itself, and punishing someone doubly for a mistake made in the past isn’t worthwhile.” The National Employment Law Project surveyed public employers and found that the state is in compliance with the roll out of the new law.

However advocates acknowledge there is still a long road ahead of them. The bans are only relevant to jobs in the public sector which excludes a lot of job opportunities. Additionally, the question concerning criminal records still appears on most applications for housing (both public and private), loans, and public benefits.

Photo by Flazingo Photoslicensed under Creative Commons.