The National Employment Law Project (NELP) estimates that there are approximately 70 million people with arrest or conviction records on file in the United States (Emsellem and Rodriquez, 2015). A criminal record can impede the employment prospects of otherwise suitable job candidates.
Employers have been known to apply blanket bans against people with criminal histories, while others only hire people with low-level offenses, and still others only offer positions to people with old convictions. These discriminatory practices prompted a grassroots movement to “Ban the Box” from job applications, in an effort to increase the odds of people with criminal records receiving a fair chance at an employment opportunity. Lawmakers have responded favorably to this idea, implementing Ban the Box polices in more than 100 local jurisdictions and 20 states.
On the surface, Ban the Box makes sense. Along with removing the box that people with criminal histories must check, the policy also delays the inquiry into an applicant’s criminal background. These efforts are thought to increase interviews and call backs, and ultimately to promote hiring candidates that are denied exclusively because of a criminal record. Despite their important social and economic implications, there is little evidence that these policies have altered hiring practices or employer perspectives.
Ban the Box does not require employers to hire applicants with criminal records. Indeed, more than 80 percent of employers conduct criminal background checks, which are often used to disqualify these applicants. There is also concern that employers will use proxies like race, age, and gaps in resumes to weed out applicants they view as undesirable, since the criminal history inquiry is prohibited (during the initial interview in some jurisdictions or until after a job offer is made in others).
There are many unanswered questions about how these policies are impacting the hiring of people with criminal records around the country, especially since they vary widely depending on the jurisdiction. Hence, The Fortune Society is hosting a Twitter Chat on May 17, 2016, to foster a national dialogue on Ban the Box with practitioners, advocates, academics, policymakers, and laypeople alike. The goal is to determine what has worked and what still needs to be adjusted, in order to ameliorate a policy that is designed to level the playing field for a stigmatized population – albeit one that is just as worthy of being gainfully employed as anyone else!