Although convicted criminals often go through vocational training and education while in prison to help successfully reenter society and find work once they’ve served their time behind bars, they’re often confronted by a big obstacle when they apply for jobs.
On employment applications, they’re often automatically excluded from consideration on the first round because they checked the box indicating that they have a criminal background.
With unemployment rates high among the population of former criminal offenders across the nation, more and more states and local jurisdictions have been turning to so-called “Ban the Box” rules, aimed at prohibiting questions about criminal background on employment applications and shifting the timing of criminal background checks to later on in the hiring process.
California’s Ban the Box law for public-sector hiring, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last year, went into effect on July 1 and could boost the job-seeking chances for 7 million state residents with criminal backgrounds.
Some lawmakers have been working to extend Ban the Box hiring rules to private-sector hiring as well. In February, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee signed the Fair Chance Ordinance, a measure that will go into effect next month and will extend Ban the Box rules to private employers in the city with more than 20 employees.
The Los Angeles City Council is also considering its own local Ban the Box legislation for private-sector hiring.
On Monday, the District of Columbia Council unanimously passed the Fair Criminal Record Screening Act of 2014, introduced by Councilmember Tommy Wells in February and approved by the council on its first reading in early June. Assuming that D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray doesn’t veto the legislation and Congress doesn’t interfere before the it takes effect, the act will mandate that private employers in the nation’s capital remove any questions about criminal history from employment applications.
In the case of the District, 10 percent of the population — roughly 60,000 residents — have criminal histories.
But the expanded Ban the Box rules will, according to Wells’ office, allow “applicants the opportunity to explain their criminal record, correct inaccuracies in the criminal record, and make the case that they are qualified for the position sought.”
In a statement, Wells said that "[t]his legislation is a vital step toward addressing that challenge and I commend my colleagues for their diligence and commitment to ensuring passage of this bill prior to Council recess."
Advocates of Ban the Box rules point out that employers are still able to conduct criminal background checks of job candidates, it’s just that such inquiries are mandated to happen later on in the hiring process and sometimes once a preliminary job offer has been extended.
As National Public Radio recently reported, some business groups think that timeline is problematic.
That's too late, says Elizabeth Milito, senior executive counsel with the National Federation of Independent Business. "That's pretty far down the road for a small business owner that might have only five or 10 employees and needs somebody in there now," she says.
Milito argues that small businesses can't afford a long hiring process, especially if they know that someone's criminal record is relevant. She gives the example of a plumber who sends his workers into customers' homes.
Some jobs, like in child care, aren’t subject to Ban the Box rules.
Currently, there are 12 states and more than 60 cities and counties with Ban the Box rules in place, according to the National Employment Law Center.
MAP: In red, states with cities and/or counties that have adopted "Ban the Box" policies. (via the National Employment Law Center)