SCSJ Senior Attorney for Criminal Justice Daryl Atkinson appeared on the PBS NewsHour on Wednesday, June 17, 2015 and discussed “Ban the Box” hiring reform with NewsHour Senior Correspondent William Brangham and senior executive counsel for the National Federation for American Business Elizabeth Milito.
From its earliest days as a refuge for colonial settlers seeking a fresh start in a new world to its years as the land of opportunity for immigrants dreaming of new beginnings, America’s story has always been one of second chances. A promise to begin anew to make a better life is both inherent to America’s character and deeply embedded in its value system.
However, the nation has not embraced the ideal of second chances for people convicted of crimes. Over the last 30 years America has experienced an explosion in the number of people who have come into contact with the criminal legal system: nearly 1.6 million people are currently in prison, 4 million are on probation, and 70 million have a criminal record. For many job applicants throughout the country, one question blocks them from gainful employment and economic opportunity: a single question, often posed as a checkbox on the front of most job applications, which asks about an applicant’s criminal history. For many employers, it has become a way to weed out applicants before ever considering qualifications such as education and job history. This practice is widespread, and its negative effects on job applicants and their communities are staggering.
Rather than let this pernicious barrier to opportunity stand, a movement to “Ban the Box”-to remove this checkbox from applications- has risen to disassemble such structural discrimination facing people with criminal records. The “Ban the Box” movement was birthed in the Bay Area by a group of formerly incarcerated people named “All of Us or None”. To date, 17 states across the country and more than 100 cities and counties have passed laws to remove this barrier, to great advantage. Atkinson described the successful passage of “Ban the Box” legislation in both the County and City of Durham, North Carolina in 2011 and 2012:
“I believe that millions of people who cycle in and out of our criminal justice system can be successful as well if they have the necessary support…We have seen the percentage of people hired who have criminal records go up every year without any increases in workplace theft or crime. None of these folks have been subsequently terminated because they committed a subsequent offense.”
Durham’s success is hardly a flash in the pan; the gains it has reaped since banning the box are consistent with those in recent findings evaluating the larger impact of Ban the Box hiring reform.
Today, Americans are taking increasing notice of the injustices inherent to the country’s system of mass criminalization as well as the collateral consequences that individuals-disproportionately people of color-suffer as a result of their contact with the criminal legal system. More and more, they recognize how discriminatory hiring practices facing formerly incarcerated people betray America’s promise and are thus taking action to ensure that people with convictions have a fair chance to work. In recent months, elected officials and business leaders have joined religious, labor, and civil rights groups in supporting the national civil and human rights coalition comprised of formerly incarcerated people that launched and currently leads the nation-wide “Ban the Box” campaign.
Watch the full segment and view a transcript of the NewsHour segment here:
This post was written by SCSJ Researcher Sarah Moncelle