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Pressure builds for Feds to ‘Ban the Box’

By Freddie Allen/NNPA Senior Washington Correspondent
On June 22, 2015

The ‘Ban the Box’ campaign aims to remove the question about prior criminal background off employment applications.

(NNPA) – Sources say 17 states and Washington, D.C., have passed laws making it easier for ex-offenders to find employment. Civil rights and community groups that advocate for returning citizens are now pushing the White House to do the same.

According to a report by the National Employment Law Project (NELP), an estimated 70 million adults in the United States have arrest or conviction records. This can be problematic, considering 9 in 10 employers conduct criminal background checks.

Blacks – who are nearly 13 percent of the U.S. population – account for 35.7 percent of the state and federal prison populations, compared to Whites who make up 32.8 percent.

“Our justice system is deeply unjust and unfair,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “We often focus on the incarceration rate and the impact that policing and sentencing have on communities of color, but the injustice of our system is much more widespread.”

Henderson alleges that this is due to the United States continually punishing people long after they have paid their debts to society.

Most people who are convicted of crimes return to their communities, often facing greater challenges when it comes to finding affordable housing, educational opportunities and jobs.

According to an NELP report, “Economists estimated that because people with felony records and formerly incarcerated people have poor job prospects, the nation’s gross domestic product in 2008 was between $57 and $65 billion lower than it would have been had they been gainfully employed.”

Some of the biggest companies in the United States are taking notice and revising their hiring policies to provide greater opportunities to ex-offenders. KOCH Industries, worth more than $100 billion, recently joined Wal-Mart, Target and Home Depot to “ban the box” on job applications.

According to the NELP, “There are a total of 17 states representing nearly every region of the country that have adopted the policies: California (2013, 2010); Colorado (2012); Connecticut (2010); Delaware (2014); Georgia (2015); Hawaii (1998); Illinois (2014, 2013); Maryland (2013); Massachusetts (2010); Minnesota (2013, 2009); Nebraska (2014); New Jersey (2014), New Mexico (2010); Ohio (2015); Rhode Island (2013); Vermont (2015); and Virginia (2015).”

Additionally, six states have required that private employers remove the question about criminal background from job applications.

Andrea Marta, the campaign manager for Lifelines to Healing, said that finding a job is the key to helping people return to their communities.

“Jobs help provide redemption and the second chance that many of our folks need to be successful once they come home,” said Marta. “People can walk away from the cycle of violence and poverty through a job that can prevent it.”

Earlier this month, a group from PICO National Network – which included ex-offenders – met with White House officials and staffers from the Congressional Black Caucus to discuss recommendations for returning citizens facing employment and housing barriers.

According to Maurice Emsellem, program director for NELP, the ‘ban the box’ legislation is also in compliance with current civil rights laws that require employers to take into account the age of the record directly related to the job or rehabilitation programs that the applicant has completed.

In 2012, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released guidance on hiring practices, encouraging companies to be more mindful of how they use an applicant’s criminal background history in judging whether they’re qualified to do the job. This is to prevent them from unintentionally violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Dorsey Nunn, executive director of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children and co-founder of All of Us or None, alleges that if the federal government is going to spend his tax dollars, then he should have access to everything that they spend his money on. That includes jobs with companies that do business with and for the federal government.

“There are boxes all over the place that exclude me from access to a meaningful life,” said Nunn. “‘Ban the box’ is more than a question of fair chance hiring. I want the full restoration of my civil and human rights and this is just the first step in the process.”

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