The Box: Voting it OUT Gives All a Shot to Get IN

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Published on October 31, 2016

Imagine everything you’ve been working for to get that dream job. All of your talents, your intense passion, the countless hours in school, and crappy shifts you’ve endured to acquire experience for that one special career. Now you see it! THE job opening! This is your calling. No one else can do this job like you can. You were born for this.

Now imagine all of your hopes and aspirations laying at the mercy of a question with two boxes marked Yes and No. This question likely has nothing to do with how perfect you are for this position. Your truthful answer to that question is YES, but YES is the wrong answer. The employer sees YES and instantly develops an opinion of you, without ever meeting you. Without ever seeing how much of an asset you would be to them. Without ever seeing your face, your determination, your confidence in believing that you are the best fit for this position. If you check the NO box, well, now you’ve lied on an official document and even if you get the job you’ll likely get fired once they discover the truth.

Now imagine that going forward you will have to mark YES on every job application you fill out, for the rest of your life. You know you don’t have a shot at even getting in the door to show them what you can do. Would you give up? I think I would. Should the sum of anyone’s accomplishments, dreams, values, and worth, be defined by one YES/NO question? Sounds like legalized discrimination. I believe we’re better than that.

The Ban The Box movement is making great strides to give everyone an equal shot at their dreams. The goal of Ban the Box is to get rid of that YES/NO question that is right in the middle of millions of job applications: “Have you ever been convicted of a crime?”

Every employer has the right to perform background checks. Ban the Box’s proposal and push is not to deceive or hide things from employers.  It’s simply attempting to allow all candidates for a particular opening, the ability to get their foot in the door and have a proper face to face meeting. That’s Ban the Box’s sole intention.

In 24 states across the U.S. variations of Ban the Box laws have already been implemented, and the laws are drawn up differently from city to city. Some new laws state that employers are not allowed to ask about the existence of criminal history until the interview. Other versions say that employers cannot ask until after an official offer of employment is made.

Does it actually work?… It’s widely believed that ex-offenders are more likely to repeat offenses when they cannot secure employment. Hawaii was ahead of the curve. They were the first state to Ban the Box way back in 1998, and they have the strictest version of the law. A study performed by the Department of Criminal Justice showed that repeat felonies decreased by 11.4% in Hawaii since Ban the Box was put into place. Birmingham, Alabama banned the Box this year after the results of data taken showed that ex-offenders who find jobs are 50% less likely to break the law as those who do not re-enter the workforce. Birmingham’s Mayor William Bell spoke of the injustice of discarding people based on a YES/NO question, “There is no such thing as a disposable person. We must take the time and make the effort to offer second chances to the thousands of people impacted by these statistics,” he said.

Connecticut is still a bit behind, but certain lawmakers are pushing to catch us up with Hawaii, Alabama, and 22 other states. Studies in Connecicut show that job candidates who mark YES have their chance of a callback reduced by 50%. New Haven Mayor Toni Harp, who supports Ban the Box said, “Who among us has led a mistake free life?” She was accompanied by Blain McKay, a West Haven resident with a criminal record, who was hired by the city of New Haven to be a parking enforcement officer. “Having this job changed my life dramatically.” We’ve seen Bridgeport’s leniency toward ex-offenders when Mayor Ganim was re-elected after having broken laws while in office. If someone is rehabilitated, and is the right person for the job, shouldn’t they have every opportunity to go for it?

We know what Ban the Box can do for job candidates. Can it truly benefit employers? Derrick Johnson, a restaurant owner in Oakland CA, said about hiring people with records, “I’ve seen how a job can make a difference. When I give someone a chance and he becomes my best employee, I know I’m doing right by my community.”

If someone is rehabilitated, and is the right person for the job, shouldn’t they have every opportunity to go for it? Ban the Box’s quest is only to see that everyone gets a fair shot. Proponents know and support the fact that all employers have a right to inquire about a potential employee’s criminal history, but only asks that they do so after they’ve met the person. After they’ve seen what the candidate has to offer. After they have given that person an “equal” chance to prove that they can be just as valuable, if not more, to the employer than any other candidate. Ban the Box asks us all to halt discrimination, and stop reducing a large portion of Americans to a YES/NO question.