Leveling The Playing Field For Criminal Offenders

By: Vincent Valente

Ban the box.[1]  It is a campaign to give people with past convictions a fair chance at getting a job.[2]  The campaign began by a national civil rights organization of formerly-incarcerated people and their families called All of Us or None.[3]  People with past convictions face a huge barrier with job and housing discrimination when trying to reintegrating into society.[4]

There is an underlying premise that employers do not choose their candidates based on job skills and qualifications but on past convictions when the box is checked.[5]  This group believes that by removing the box, an employer will select the candidate based on skills and qualifications because the box that tells the employer, “Hey, I was convicted of a crime”, is no longer there.[6]  Now, the group does not think that past convictions should be hidden entirely, but that it should be brought up later on in the job selection process, such as in the interview.[7]  Thus, allowing them a foot in the door.

The first phase of this campaign focused on Public Employers and has been met with approval and success.[8]  Minnesota, for example, has banned the box for public employment applicants and is introducing a bill to further expand upon it.[9]  Over forty-five cities and counties, including NY, have removed the box from their employment applications.  In addition, other states, such as California, have changed their hiring practices in public employment to reduce discrimination based on arrest or conviction records.[10]

Even the EEOC has clarified and strengthened its policies in regard to using criminal history in making employment decisions.[11]  For example, the EEOC has begun prosecuting employers who have a blanket ban on hiring people with felony convictions.[12]  In other words, employers can no longer automatically deny people jobs based on arrest or conviction records.

Another victory for the campaign came when Target announced that it will remove the question about criminal history from its job applications throughout the country.[13]  It didn’t come without effort.  Target’s actions are in response to comply with the new Minnesota law and a two year campaign which consisted of public action at Target’s headquarters, hundreds of rejected applicants that have past records visiting Target’s shareholder meeting, and numerous emails and phone calls with target executives.[14] However, having such a large retailer such as Target remove the box isn’t news to the campaign.[15]  Wal-Mart removed their criminal history box from its applications back in 2010.[16]  These retail giants are helping level the playing field for those with a criminal history.

These ban the box laws, do not remove the ability for employers to conduct background checks or drug tests,[17] nevertheless, removal of the box helps reduce discrimination among convicted offenders.  By not being eliminated at the very beginning of the job search they have a better shot at getting the job.[18]  It is leveling the playing field a little more for those with prior convictions; they can now get their foot in the door.



[1] All of Us or None, The Campaign, Ban the Box Campaign, http://bantheboxcampaign.org/?p=20 (last visited Oct. 31, 2013).

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7]Janet Moore, Target to ban criminal history box on job applications, Star Tribune, http://www.startribune.com/business/229310141.html (last visited Oct. 31, 2013).

[8] All of Us or None, supra note 1.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Moore, supra, note 7.

[12] All of Us or None, supra note 1.

[13]Brent Staples, Target Bans the Box, NY Times, http://takingnote.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/10/29/target-bans-the-box/?hp&rref=opinion&_r=0 (last visited Oct. 31, 2013).

[14] Moore, supra note 7.

[15] Id.

[16] Id.

[17] Id.

[18] Id.

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