While the governor’s prison reform bill (SB 371) is being debated in the House, they might want to think about removing barriers that make it very difficult for ex-felons gain employment. If one of our goals is help reduce recidivism and help ex-felons enter the workforce, the state will need to end counter-productive practices that make it difficult for ex-felons to get a job. One way that this could be accomplished is if the state prohibited some employers from asking about convictions on job applications. So far, seven states and more than 40 cities nationwide have passed this reform which is often referred to as “ban the box.”
The “box” refers to the place on many employment applications that asks whether the applicant has been convicted of a crime or sometimes it may even inquire about arrests. By removing the box from applications, it would give the employer the opportunity to learn about the candidate’s experience and skills as they relate to the position instead of automatically tossing out the application. However, this does not mean that the employer cannot run a criminal background check. The aim is to help remove this initial barrier and allow the applicant to explain his or her record and how successful their rehabilitation efforts have been since being convicted.
If we want to reduce our growing prison population, reduce prison costs, and help families of formerly incarcerated heal, prosper and contribute to our community, then ex-felons must have a better shot at getting a job. While the legislature may not look at “banning the box” this year, cities in the state could lead the way and put pressure on the state to do the same.
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