What is Ban the Box?

The “box” is that spot on many employment applications that asks whether the applicant has been convicted of a crime or been incarcerated.  Some employment applications may even inquire into arrests. A proposed Ban the Box ordinance will remove these questions from the application at the initial stage of the employment process so the hiring authority will first get an opportunity to learn about the candidate’s experience, skills and personality as they relate to the position to be filled. The Ban the Box movement began with All of Us or None, a grassroots civil rights organization with a national initiative to fight for the rights of formerly- and currently- incarcerated people and their families.

A recent white paper by the Southern Coalition for Social Justice entitled The Benefits of Ban the Box: A Case Study of Durham, NC has a wealth of information about the history of the SCSJ’s successful initiative in Durham and its positive effects.

View the Ban the Box toolkit from SCSJ’s Ban the Box initiative in Durham »

Why does Ban the Box matter?

More than 1.6 million people in N.C. have a criminal record and consequently face employment discrimination. Nearly 45% of those under N.C. Department of Correction supervision are African American, despite making up only 21% of the state’s population. Banning the box is crucial to ending job discrimination against this large section of our community.

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Unemployment and underemployment resulting from criminal convictions not only affects those with criminal records, but affects their families and communities as well. If families of people with criminal records are going to heal, prosper and contribute to our community, everyone must have an opportunity for employment, housing and education. Employment is the most effective tool to reduce recidivism (returning to prison), resulting in a safer community and lower cost to tax payers.

  • Nearly one in three American adults has an arrest or conviction record that shows up in a routine check – National Employment Law Project 2010 Annual Report.  Many of these records are erroneous or out of date, involve minor offenses, or fail to reflect an individual’s successful rehabilitation.
  • According to a survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management, more than 90% of companies reported using criminal background check for their hiring decisions.
  • African Americans represent 12% of the total population of drug users, but 38% of those arrested for drug offenses, and 59% of those in state prison for a drug offense.
  • Minneapolis passed a Ban the Box ordinance in 2007.  Prior to the ordinance, only 6% of people with tarnished records were able to find work.  After the Ban the Box measure was passed, this figure jumped to 60%, without any increase in theft or violence in the workplace.

“Ban the Box” in the media:

(Note: SCSJ does not endorse the language used in these articles to describe people with criminal records.  You can view an open letter explaining the power of language from the Center for NuLeadership on Urban Solutions.)

Successful Ban the Box Campaigns

Several states across the country have enacted into law versions of “Ban the Box,” including Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota and New Mexico.  Ban the Box campaigns have also been successful in cities and counties across the country, including Jacksonville, Memphis, Richmond and Atlanta. The National Employment Law Project maintains a comprehensive collection of information on Ban the Box measures that have passed across the country, including state-by-state and city-by-city comparisons of Ban the Box laws.

In North Carolina, SCSJ led the first successful Ban the Box campaign in Durham, which led to the passage of administrative policies in the city and county governments.  Read about this initiative and its recent positive effects in The Benefits of Ban the Box: A Case Study of Durham, NC. Subsequently, Cumberland County and the towns of Carrboro and Spring Lake passed similar policies.

Organizing Ban the Box

Grassroots organizing has proven essential in the successful campaigns to ban the box.  The key to mounting a successful campaign is to have a sound strategy for garnering community support for the measure, and to use that community support to influence local government officials.

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Community Groups
A Ban the Box campaign should start with a community group with the resources and personnel to serve as the face of the campaign.  If there is not already a group in the community that is willing and able to take up a Ban the Box campaign, such a group could be organized with the help of SCSJ. In addition, the local community group should invest time and resources toward ensuring the voices of directly impacted people are at the forefront of the campaign. In our experience the input from people with criminal records is indispensable in both the community organizing and the development of effective policy.

Community Meeting
A successful Ban the Box campaign should start by getting the broader community informed and involved.  Planning a community meeting is a great way of bringing the issue to light and identifying groups and individuals willing to support the cause.  The use of fliers, the local newspaper, social media and word-of-mouth will help bolster attendance.  You can download a sample flier from Durham Second Chance Alliance’s Ban the Box campaign.

Seek Endorsements
The community meeting should provide a platform for seeking involvement of community members who can help make the campaign a success.  Drafting an endorsement form will help build a stronger network of groups and individuals by obtaining personal commitments to further the campaign (i.e. through obtaining petition signatures,  reaching out to government officials, obtaining endorsements from other organizations, etc.).  Look to allies who could form a core leadership group in the movement—such as directly impacted people and their families, clergy, law enforcement, and civil rights groups.  You can view a sample endorsement form.

Create a Petition
A petition should be created and distributed to those willing to seek signatures.  Petitions are an important way for government officials to gauge the level of support behind a proposed ordinance..  The petition should contain information sufficient to inform citizens of the purpose of the measure and why it is important for the community.  You can view a sample petition.  It is also a good idea for those seeking signatures to carry a fact sheet to provide more information.  The fact sheet should provide information on the incarceration and/or criminal record rates for the jurisdiction of the proposed ordinance.  You acn view a sample fact sheet from Durham’s Ban the Box campaign.

Draft an Ordinance
The campaign should have a proposed ordinance drafted so it can be presented to the government officials.  At this stage, enlisting the aid of an attorney to help draft the ordinance is advisable so as to ensure that the language of the ordinance will meet any requirements of the local governing body.  You can view a sample ordinance from Durham’s Ban the Box campaign.

Meeting with Elected Officials
The most important step in a Ban the Box campaign is gaining the support of the elected officials authorized to vote on proposed ordinances, typically City Council or County Commissioners.  The process for enacting ordinances will vary by locale, so make sure to research how ordinances are enacted for your local government.

Setting up a meeting with your elected officials will allow you to present your case for why a Ban the Box ordinance should be put into place.  A key component of this meeting should be individuals with criminal records who could relate their personal experiences with post-conviction job searches, i.e. what the individuals have done to try to fit back into the community, how ban the box has complicated those efforts, and why the ordinance will give the individuals a second chance.  It is important that participants in the meeting do not attempt to re-litigate their past criminal cases.  In our experience elected officials are more interested in what an individual has done since their contact with the criminal justice, and how their criminal record negatively affects their job search.  Remember that staying on message is essential to influencing these elected officials as to why your cause is important.