By Bo Thornton
President Obama is keeping busy in his last five hundred days by announcing several measures he would like to address. One of which is a new order which attempts to curb discrimination against hiring ex-convicts as federal government employees.
Obama’s action is considered a step towards what those seeking criminal justice reform call “ban the box.” Once seen as an easy and common sense way for employers to screen for criminal backgrounds, it is criticized as an easy way to discriminate against former inmates, regardless of the nature of their offense or how long ago it occurred. Banning the box would delay when employers can learn of an applicant’s criminal record.
President Obama will unveil the plan when visiting a treatment center in New Jersey, where Republican Gov. Chris Christie has already signed a ban the box bill into law last year. Ban the box legislation is also supported by Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Sen. Rand Paul. Cory Booker would like to take this measure 1 step further and seal criminal records for non-violent offenders.
The White House says it is “encouraged” by such legislation but emphasizes the President’s Order will take immediate action, mandating that the federal government’s HR department “delay inquiries into criminal history until later in the hiring process.”
Obama explained, “If the disclosure of a criminal record happens later in a job application process, you’re more likely to be hired.” Citing many studies that show when employers see the box checked for an applicant’s criminal record, they dismiss them without ever looking at their qualifications.
“If they have a chance to at least meet you,” the President continued, “you’re able to talk to them about your life, what you’ve done, maybe they give you a chance.”
According to the Justice Department, 60-to-75% of former inmates cannot find work within their first year out of jail which is a huge impediment to re-entering society.
Research shows a criminal record can reduce an employer’s interest in an applicant by about 50%, and when white and Black applicants both have criminal records; employers are far less likely to call back a Black applicant than a white one. A 2009 re-entry study in New York City found, “the criminal record penalty suffered by white applicants (30%) is roughly half the size of the penalty for blacks with a record (60%).”