“Ban the box”

Michelle Singletary, who writes The Color of Money column at the Washington Post, wrote an interesting article entitled For ex-cons seeking work, let’s ‘ban the box’.

Toward the end of the column, Michelle Singletary writes,

When ex-offenders fill out job applications, many have to check a box indicating they have been convicted of a crime.  That checked box has become a brand preventing them from getting jobs or even interviews.  I’m an advocate for the growing “Ban the Box” movement, which advocates eliminating from applications questions about criminal convictions.

Employers have a right to check the backgrounds of potential workers to ensure they are hiring competent employees who will not jeopardize the safety of their workers or customers. But having a job is one of the leading factors in preventing ex-offenders from ending up back in prison.

In the column Ms. Singletary discusses the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filing lawsuits against two different companies for violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act “by using criminal justice history information that had a disparate impact on black applicants.”  One example Ms. Singletary cites to in her column sounds really bad.

A new contractor took over UTi and required employees to reapply for their positions.  Workers who had criminal convictions were fired, despite the fact that many had worked at the BMW facility for years.  One woman’s ouster was based on a 1990 misdemeanor conviction for simple assault in which she paid a $137 fine, according to the EEOC’s lawsuit.  She had worked for UTi and prior BMW logistics-services providers for 14 years.

That example is pretty extreme.  A simple assault, a misdemeanor, from 1990 and her 14 year history with the company is flushed down the toilet?  I understand the EEOC’s concern.

But, we all know for some positions, such as day care provider, not only do prospective applicants have to disclose any criminal background, but they have to be finger printed, etc.  And we as a society DEMAND such thoroughness when it comes to protecting our most vulnerable population.

I also understand a retail employer not wanting to hire someone who has stolen money while previously employed in another retail position.

But I don’t think the blame should be placed on the employer ( in most instances).  It is the applicant with the checkered past.  I do believe in second chances but we must acknowledge the onus is on the applicant.  Did that prospective employer tell that applicant to steal, to buy illegal drugs, to rob a bank?  Of course not.

At the beginning of the column, the 2nd and 3rd paragraphs Ms. Singletary writes,

We discuss the decisions that led them to their current situation.  In the case of a recent session, the participants were all inmates at the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women.

During the presentation, one woman tearfully described how she sold drugs so that she could buy brand-name clothes, shoes and other items for herself and her children.  She was trying to make up for what she didn’t have as a child.

So this woman, who hopefully grew up with one or both parents though she lacked material things, is behind bars (and where are her children?) because she wanted to provide, not just material things for her children, but brand-name material items?  I bet her children would rather have their mother around than those brand-name material items which cannot hug them, console them, love them.

I am on the fence about “ban the box,” leaning more towards not banning the box.

What about you?

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1 Comment

  1. JH said,

    June 17, 2013 at 1:05 pm

    I share your position of being “on the fence”. As I empathize with ex-offenders who have served their time and make honest attempts to obtain legitimate employment to support their families and to become a productive member of society. On the hand, I do believe something must be in place to aid in protecting the community and employees.


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