For a country that embraces a belief in second chances, America doesn’t do a very good job in extending the same fair chances to people with felony records.
Approximately 24 million Americans have a felony conviction and 1 in 12 adult Americans have a felony conviction.
They will, of course, carry the stigma and bear the lifelong consequences of being a convicted felon.
The vast majority of businesses have the “box” on their application. It is discrimination at the front door. It knows no ethnic or class boundaries and it begs the question: “When is punishment enough punishment?”
Removing a person’s freedom should be enough punishment, but when citizens also pay their debt to society by completing their sentences, they should be allowed to regain their respect and dignity and not be branded for life.
Everyone has a stake in prisoner re-entry to society and whether we believe this or not, one thing is for certain: Most inmates in our nation’s prisons are going back to their home cities.
Do we want people who are angry and unskilled with no employment potential — or people who are rehabilitated and willing to work, which is one of the best ways we can keep people from turning back to a life of crime, help keep our communities safe and keep families together.
Anyone who’s applied for a job knows that there is a check box on job applications that asks the dreaded question “Have you ever been convicted of a felony?”
Ban-the-box legislation would establish new standards for hiring people with criminal records.
It is not a quota or preference. It establishes that the only required considerations allowed are:
*Passage of time since conviction
*Evidence of rehabilitation (occurrences in life of applicant since crimes)
*Relationship of crime to the purposes of regulating public employment sought
*Relationship of crime to ability, capacity and fitness for job
It does not permit the “Box” to be asked before the interview process, thereby protecting the felon from immediate discrimination.
On Oct 7, 2015, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee voted unanimously to approve the Fair Chance to Compete for Jobs Act of 2015 (S. 2021), which is bipartisan legislation that would ban federal agencies and federal contractors from asking job applicants to disclose criminal histories before making conditional job offers. Also in 2015, President Barack Obama directed the federal Office of Personnel Management to delay asking about convictions until later in the hiring process.
Companies such as Bed, Bath & Beyond, Home Depot, Koch Industries, Target and Wal-Mart already have adopted policies similar to the Fair Chance Act.
24 states and more than 100 cities and counties have already enacted “ban-the-box” legislation, including Maryland and Washington, D.C.
Every state must also adopt “ban-the-box” legislation, which is real world example of how restorative justice can successfully aim to repair the harm caused by crime rather than continue to punish people, which may end up indirectly punishing us all.
Stacy Swimp is a national speaker and independent political activist. Tracey M. Martin is an award-winning, Detroit-based juvenile justice attorney, member of the Wayne County Criminal Defense Bar Association, and advocate for law reform.