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Inmate firefighters line up for dinner at the Rim Fire camp near Buck Meadows, California, August 26, 2013. The fire has burned 160,980 acres on the northwest side of Yosemite National Park. REUTERS/Max Whittaker (UNITED STATES - Tags: ENVIRONMENT DISASTER) - RTX12XQK
A prison sentence should not mean a sentence to a lifetime of unemployment and poverty.
It's no wonder that a sky-high proportion of people who go to prison once in America go back, sometimes repeatedly. No wonder, because people coming out of prison have few options for building law-abiding lives. Their chances of getting jobs and all the things that go with jobs are shattered—we're talking about unemployment rates of 60 percent or more. And in a country that imprisons as many people as the United States does, and with such massive racial disparities, a huge number of people, especially black men, find themselves without options for changing their lives. Annie-Rose Strasser reports on a movement to change that, reducing job discrimination against former prisoners simply by making one little change to employment applications.

The change in question is just removing a box that asks job applicants if they've been arrested or convicted of a crime, a box that immediately takes many applicants out of the running for even low-wage jobs. The movement to ban the box is gaining steam and having an impact:

In Minneapolis, where a ban the box ordinance passed in 2007, the percentage of people with criminal records who were able to find work went from 6 percent to 60. [...]

In total, 10 states have banned the box, and half of them did it last year. They’re joined by 56 local jurisdictions, by the count of the National Law Employment Project (NELP).

It should be obvious, but being able to get a job makes recidivism less likely, keeping people out of prison. That saves the public money, yes, but equally importantly, it allows people to recover from early mistakes and live reasonable lives. Right now, the effects of discrimination against ex-prisoners fall disproportionately on black men, so reducing discrimination against ex-prisoners is an important way to chip away at racial gaps in unemployment and wages.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Labor on Thu Feb 13, 2014 at 10:59 AM PST.

Also republished by Unemployment Chronicles and Daily Kos.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I could support legislation for checking the box (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Bronx59, Samer, Amber6541, elwior, rebel ga

    only for crimes of moral turpitude and even then within, say, five years.  Also for licensing criteria for some professions.  Tax credits or other incentives would also help.  I too believe many get out of prison and think (know) they can't get good work and say the hell with it my life is screwed forever.  

    If I comply with non-compliance am I complying?

    by thestructureguy on Thu Feb 13, 2014 at 11:14:27 AM PST

    •  yes (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      chira2, bluebrain

      After 5 years, your criminal record should be expunged from view to all but law enforcement.  BTW, I'm including sex offenders--to be permanently branded is almost a self fulfilling prophesy-- psychologically damaging.  If the authorities still feel you'll be an offender, you shouldn't be allowed on the streets at all.

      Actions speak louder than petitions.

      by melvynny on Sat Feb 15, 2014 at 09:57:11 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  So someone who committed a rape (0+ / 0-)

        in say 2007 and served 6 years and was released in 2013 should have their record expunged? If this person goes on to rape a colleague in 2015, would you absolve the employer of any liability?

        New Republic: So are the left-wing blogs as bad as the Tea Party ones in this case? -------------------------Chuck Schumer: Left-wing blogs are the mirror image. They just have less credibility and less clout.

        by AlexDrew on Sat Feb 15, 2014 at 03:06:17 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  I agree, for licensing only, and only for crimes (6+ / 0-)

    that are clearly relevant to the industry at hand.

    I don't think someone who's been accused of embezzlement should be able to get licensed as, say, a stock broker, but I don't think simple marijuana possession should get anyone blacklisted from any job.

    But for jobs that don't require licensure, I agree.

    We don't want our country back, we want our country FORWARD. --Eclectablog

    by Samer on Thu Feb 13, 2014 at 11:40:28 AM PST

  •  Moderate imapct (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    rebel ga

    On low wage jobs. With or without a box, most jobs that pay above minimum wage these days include a criminal background check.

    •  i think the way this'd work (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      kyril, elwior, MarthaPeregrine

      is to stop pre-screening before the interview stage, before the felon has the opportunity to at least talk about why he or she is reformed.  You can't obviously put a gag order on ever inquiring about felony status, unless you're really confident prison is 100% effective at reforming people.

      Difficult, difficult, lemon difficult.

      by Loge on Thu Feb 13, 2014 at 12:16:14 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  I would ban that too. (6+ / 0-)

      I would seal criminal records from public view.

      Then introduce a system where those records could be checked for certain sensitive positions. Working with children and vulnerable adults would be a good example.

      Employers could still apply to check a criminal record, but only those convictions that include crimes of violence, or convictions relevant to the position applied for would be disclosed.

      You could also classify certain crimes, and have convictions considered "spent", that is expunged from all but very sensitive jobs, and future court proceedings.

      I hope that the quality of debate will improve,
      but I fear we will remain Democrats.

      Who is twigg?

      by twigg on Sat Feb 15, 2014 at 09:16:15 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  What happens when an employer asks about (5+ / 0-)

        work and education history over the past 5 years and 3 years are unaccounted for?  Many employers may just assume long employment gaps could be time in prison so those with long work gaps don't get interviewed.  If the employer did not want to hire those with time in prison, the long term unemployed may find getting a job more difficult.

        Maybe job placement programs and job training for those with prison records are needed.

        The most important way to protect the environment is not to have more than one child.

        by nextstep on Sat Feb 15, 2014 at 09:41:49 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  The hope is to eliminate pre-screening to allow (7+ / 0-)

          felons to get to the interview stage. Moving the felony question the the interview gives people a chance to explain their individual situations.  It is still legal to ask about criminal history in the interview and do background checks. And evidently that is all it takes to start improving employment opportunities. We have a long way to go though.

          Is fheàrr fheuchainn na bhith san dùil

          by bull8807 on Sat Feb 15, 2014 at 09:52:46 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  It isn't meant to be a perfect solution (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          SoCalSocialist, Kevskos, bluebrain

          merely a step in the right direction.

          Employers who get into the habit of hiring those with a "past", tend to continue to do so when the myths are dispelled.

          The current system can be a lifetime bar to a decent job, and that is a punishment that is simply unreasonable.

          It is possible to develop a much more nuanced approach to convictions, but not in a country that has been conditioned to live in fear of its neighbors.

          Until that is changed, nothing will change. The step suggested in this Diary is a small one, but we have to start somewhere.

          I hope that the quality of debate will improve,
          but I fear we will remain Democrats.

          Who is twigg?

          by twigg on Sat Feb 15, 2014 at 10:04:03 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  Why would one ever assume... (4+ / 0-)

          ...that long employment gaps mean prison time?  That's about the dumbest leap of logic I've ever heard, especially given the state of the economy in recent years.

          •  Also plenty of other circumstances (4+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            flowerfarmer, twigg, ZenTrainer, vadem165

            such as caring for young children, elderly parents or other family members.

            There's only one rule that I know of, babies -- goddammit, you've got to be kind. -- Kurt Vonnegut

            by Cali Scribe on Sat Feb 15, 2014 at 01:33:25 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

          •  When employers have far more applications for (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            AlexDrew

            a position than needed, the first pass review of applicants is which ones to immediately  throw out from further consideration.  This is done to get the pool of applicants down to a manageable size.  If the long term unemployed look the same as those with undisclosed time in prison, this could further discourage some employers from considering the long term unemployed.

            The most important way to protect the environment is not to have more than one child.

            by nextstep on Sat Feb 15, 2014 at 01:34:51 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

      •  We have a system of... (5+ / 0-)

        ...open court trials. Sealing a record can't unring the bell of a conviction in open court.

        A data provider could simply gather up this data as the convictions happen and store them for later querying by subscribers.

        Perhaps we could ban selling of such data. However, a consortium of businesses might just create an entity which collected this data and made it available to all in the consortium - not selling it to anyone but just sharing it among themselves.

        However, simply Googling someone who lives in a smallish town with a local newspaper may reveal a conviction even when the record has been sealed and no one made a particular effort to collect the information. Had that same person been convicted in a larger urban area there would likely have been no news reporting on the conviction - putting the small town person at an even more significant disadvantage in gaining employment.

        As well, newspapers, as they increasingly move behind paywalls, might just begin to list all criminal convictions as news in a convenient format for premium subscribers to query decades later.

        It seems employers would have to be forbidden, with specific exceptions if needed, from considering criminal background in any way in employment decisions - even if they knew from personal experience that the person had been convicted. Perhaps make criminals a protected class (to join Race, Religion, National Origin et al).

        •  Right .. all those things can be done. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          JamesGG

          But that involves a considerable amount of effort and just because it is difficult does not mean we shouldn't try.

          Convictions matter much more when the population is conditioned to fear anyone with a conviction. Remove that and much of the problem will go away.

          The idea that we should disadvantage everyone because a few, in smaller communities, might be at a disadvantage is not really supportable. Besides, in smaller communities the person is more likely to be "known", for much more than a simple conviction. That can be an advantage.

          I hope that the quality of debate will improve,
          but I fear we will remain Democrats.

          Who is twigg?

          by twigg on Sat Feb 15, 2014 at 10:08:26 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  I have to admit that I'm skeptical... (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            twigg, patbahn

            ...because I believe in the principle of an open and public judicial system.

            When a prosecutor brings a case against a defendant in the US court system, he or she isn't doing so in the name of the state or the government, but in the name of the people. As such, I think we have a right to know what's being done in our name, in order to be able to hold those who represent us in court accountable.

            If anything, I think we need more information about the actions of our prosecutors—not just things like conviction rates (which, when "higher is better," carry the assumption that all defendants are guilty), and more public accountability for those who are bringing cases against defendants in the name of the people.

            Further, I think history teaches us that once we make criminal proceedings secret instead of holding them in an open and public court, we open up the floodgates to a lot of other problems that could make the criminal justice system even more unfair to defendants (if you believe that's possible). Having a judicial system that operates in the public eye can protect against even more egregious abuses of justice.

            I completely agree that the plight of those who have been convicted of felonies and find it hard to get work afterward is a problem, but I'm really skeptical of the idea that the solution is to make all criminal proceedings into secret courts.

            "When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist." --Dom Helder Camara, archbishop of Recife

            by JamesGG on Sat Feb 15, 2014 at 10:44:10 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  You have misunderstood my point. (5+ / 0-)

              Which is fine, I expect many Americans to not get it and maybe I need to explain it better.

              I have a criminal record in my home country. If you were employing me in any regular job, you could not go look up my record from any official source, those records are sealed.

              However, the case was heard in an open court, and extensively reported, so if you knew where to look you could find it. That is not what I am complaining about, nor do I think it should be changed.

              So most prospective employers would not have any idea that I had a conviction, unless I told them, but here is the rub .... I am legally bound to tell them at the point I accept an offer of employment. At that point they are free to make a decision.

              So I can get right to the point of accepting a job BEFORE I disclose a conviction, and even then it only has to be disclosed to the employer ... not a clerk, or secretary who opens the mail. Not to a low-level employee who pre-screens applications, and not to an employment agency ... only to the employer. It is a matter between me and them only.

              If I do not disclose, and am later found out, that would be a criminal offense with a two year jail penalty.

              The length of time that the "disclosure" mandate applies depends upon the seriousness and nature of the offense.

              So nothing bars a potential employer for digging out old court transcripts and press reports, but they cannot simply apply to have my record exposed, the disclosure is my responsibility on pain of imprisonment.

              That gives me as good a shot at a job offer as anyone else, and gives me the opportunity to clearly present my case before disclosing something that might make a potential employer re-think.

              It is a system that works rather well.

              ps ... Here in the US I do not have to make ANY disclosures, because the SCOTUS has ruled that a crime in another country is not a felony here, although the US government is perfectly aware of my past, and saw fit to grant permanent residence.

              I hope that the quality of debate will improve,
              but I fear we will remain Democrats.

              Who is twigg?

              by twigg on Sat Feb 15, 2014 at 11:02:09 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  maybe our felons need to emigrate? (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                twigg

                This country was founded by Bankrupts, Prison scum
                and religious whackos,  maybe it's time for
                a new place?

              •  I understand better now... thanks. (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                twigg
                However, the case was heard in an open court, and extensively reported, so if you knew where to look you could find it. That is not what I am complaining about, nor do I think it should be changed. [...]

                So nothing bars a potential employer for digging out old court transcripts and press reports, but they cannot simply apply to have my record exposed, the disclosure is my responsibility on pain of imprisonment.

                That makes a bit more sense, I think, and certainly answers my previous objections... the impression I'd gotten was that you wanted criminal proceedings not to be public at all.

                But I have to admit that I'm skeptical as to how much impact that would have in the US on the hiring of felons, were it to go into effect. With more and more information on the internet, I think it's becoming much easier to "know where to look" to find information about criminal proceedings against someone, particularly if they were recorded in the press.

                I think that the companies that do other forms of background checks would be able to match up a name and some identifying details with criminal proceedings if they had the court transcripts or press reports.

                I think it's something about employment culture that needs to change, rather than the information available to employers during the hiring process—because in the present information environment, I don't think we can assume that information like prior felony convictions can go "back into the box" and be unavailable to employers.

                "When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist." --Dom Helder Camara, archbishop of Recife

                by JamesGG on Sat Feb 15, 2014 at 12:01:57 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  I agree, it is about the culture (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  JamesGG

                  because the majority of felons pose zero risk to their employers. Indeed, many are so grateful to have a job at all that I imagine they are quite diligent.

                  We might, at the same time, do something about reducing the number of felons we create.

                  Good conversation, thanks :)

                  I hope that the quality of debate will improve,
                  but I fear we will remain Democrats.

                  Who is twigg?

                  by twigg on Sat Feb 15, 2014 at 02:00:07 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

      •  Lessons from a work release program (11+ / 0-)

        It depends on the crimes.  I ran a recycling operation for a while, and for a couple of years we had a relationship with the State prison whereby they would send us work release prisoners for the last several months of their sentence, selected for good behavior.  We paid them at the same scale and theoretically with the same benefits that everyone else got.  The prison always told us what they were convicted of.  Depending on several factors, some of them got hired after their release.  Anyway, I have several general impressions as a result of that experience.  

        I had very good experience with people who had been convicted of crimes of passion and as far as I could tell, people who had done time for possessing even large quantities of marijuana were indistinguishable from the general population.  There were opportunities for theft in those jobs, and these categories of ex-prisoners were less likely to be a problem than men and women off the street.  In short, my experience suggests there should be some means by which people who committed those types of crimes could expunge their records one time.  I would add in the "wrong place at the wrong time" fools, although there are more people claiming that condition than there are people who really belong there.  In practice, I thought that the most likely to fall into that category were those who were just stupid - which can't be cured.      

        The opposite end of that spectrum are people convicted of sexual crimes, particularly child sexual abuse.  Whatever it is that makes someone commit those crimes, it doesn't get corrected in prison and it is a problem for employers.  I have no answer to the question of what society should do with them.  I can't think of a single one I got through that work release program who performed well, and a whole bunch who were unceremoniously returned.

        In the middle are thieves, people who have spent multiple years in prison for crimes like grand larceny.  They'll work if constantly supervised, but they can never be left alone much less trusted.  

        The problem with this program was worker safety.  Those soon to be ex-prisoners had a terrible safety record compared to other employees despite identical training and supervision and additional follow-up training.  There were two reasons for this, I believe.  First, one of the things that makes some people a criminal in the first place is a misperception of risk.  They seem more likely than the general public to believe they won't get caught, or if they are, that the punishment(s) will be minor.  In an industrial setting, that behavior translates into a belief that "I'm special and I won't get hurt."  I have a host of anecdotes, and no studies, but I found that so often that I am reasonably sure I was on to something.  The second factor is perhaps at least as important.  Ex-prisoners (or soon to be ex-prisoners) see the risk of being unemployed as far worse than the risk of being hurt.  So,  they come to work every day determined to be the best employee their boss ever saw.  In practice, that means cutting corners on things like the lock out/tag out procedures.  There may be things that made me more unhappy than seeing an employee halfway into an un-locked out, un-tagged out rock crusher or baler, but offhand I can't think of one.  

        •  You should write a diary about this (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          salmo, twigg

          Shop Liberally this holiday season at Kos Katalog

          by JamieG from Md on Sat Feb 15, 2014 at 11:59:56 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  I hired (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          salmo, twigg, flowerfarmer

          someone on probation who had been convicted of a sex crime with a minor.  When he showed up he worked well, he was very smart.  However, he had real health problems and lots of fake ones and missed many days.  I was getting ready to let him go when he dropped a bombshell on me;  he was tired of being monitored by the probation officers and decided to go back to prison and serve his entire sentence (10 more years).

          I hired others with records and had no problems with their work.  I had to let one go who failed a probation drug test and got sent to jail for a few weeks and another who got arrested.  The 2nd one stopped coming to work because he was embarrassed (I told him cranking his stereo all the was up was going to get him in trouble).  If he had returned to work I would not have had to let him go but he would not.

          "In short, I was a racketeer for Capitalism" Marine Corp Brigadier General Smedley D. Butler

          by Kevskos on Sat Feb 15, 2014 at 12:51:21 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  Great comment (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          salmo, reflectionsv37

          Thanks for sharing your insight. What you experienced makes sense. A lot depends on the type of felony. Not all felonies are equal.

      •  would you hire a felon as a housekeeper (0+ / 0-)

        or lobby guard in your office building?

  •  Any data on the impact of "Banning the Box" (0+ / 0-)

    In particular, looking at both intended and unintended potential effects?

    1 - Have average wages and unemployment of ex-cons improved?

    2 - Has discrimination in employment against groups some people associate with crime increased?

    3 - Have there been changes in workplace violence, theft or other crimes?

    4 - Have there been changes in crime rates?

    The most important way to protect the environment is not to have more than one child.

    by nextstep on Thu Feb 13, 2014 at 12:18:59 PM PST

    •  sorry - that is close to concern trolling (0+ / 0-)

      basically you suggest such a policy might lead to businesses not hiring blacks, or, say, gypsies of some kind or the other.

      Which is an awfully evil calculus - you try to justify discrimination on the assumption of even more discrimination.

      If people are actually discriminating against ethnicities, well, maybe you should ban ethnic information in applications, too.

      3 + 4 are equally problematic. You trot out every prejudice on the book, in the form of questions.

      •  It is critical to understand how policies work in (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        icemilkcoffee, OrganicChemist

        the real world rather than just going by policy prejudices of the right or left.  

        I don't have a bias for or against "Banning the Box", as this has already been implemented in some states so the data should be studied to tell us if we should favor, reject or modify the policy.  My bias is with what the data tells us.

        I am an economist, data is how we gain insight into what works.  Ignoring data, would just be an anti-science approach.

        if the data from the above questions I listed show that Banning the Box has net positive results, that data would be important in persuading other states to use this approach.  If the data does not show good results, it could give insight into other policies that need to be applied with Banning the Box to have good results.

        Looking at data from the results of policy changes is how we understand what works and what does not work.  Relying upon what feels right or wrong and ignoring the data is not healthy for the millions of people effected and undermines confidence in government.

        The most important way to protect the environment is not to have more than one child.

        by nextstep on Thu Feb 13, 2014 at 03:06:18 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  But the problem remains (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          growingMajorityMN

          Hehe, you economists and your spread-sheety tendencies.  What you're suggesting, I think, is replacing a rule (the box) with other rules more byzantine.

          "I see here you were convicted of a felony, but are you married now because our net-benefit measure show a mitigating positive if so.  By the way you're not lying about that are you because that's a 50 DKP minus."

          A strategy that attempts to systemize weighing net-positive benefit against permanently disadvantaging someone's (shortened) life is not something I can get behind and replacing decision making with elaborate formulae is not something that inspires allegiance to government.

          Consider that it was economists that gave us Black–Scholes.

      •  i think it's possible, (0+ / 0-)

        but illegal, that businesses might respond to the inabiltiy to prescreen felons by hiring fewer people they regard as likely to be felons, or people with long gaps in employment history, but that's not an argument against ban the box as it is tougher enforcement of anti-discrimination laws (and boosting the overall economy so workers have more bargaining power).  Points 3 and 4 sort of presuppose they never ever find out someone had been to prison, which is outside the scope, as i see it, from banning a preliminary check-off box.  We should also already have data on workplace theft and recidivism by looking at ex-con hiring tracking studies, so if nextstep wants it he should look it up.  

        Difficult, difficult, lemon difficult.

        by Loge on Sat Feb 15, 2014 at 09:34:52 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  If we do this then how will we dicriminate against (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    dconrad, elwior

    brown people? Snark

    “He talks a lot and he's not very bright. And that's a combination I like in Republicans.” James Carville

    by Mokislab on Thu Feb 13, 2014 at 12:21:11 PM PST

    •  yes (0+ / 0-)

      Locking people up only supports three goals.  One is transferring public money to corporations, the second is a jobs program, and the third is to provide a means of disenfranchising certain groups of people.  For instance, GW Bush was allegedly stopped fro drunk driving, but was never sent to jail like so many other drunk drivers are.

      There are so many other technological solutions that would limit the freedom of the criminal and protect the public.  The only reason to build more jails is to transfer public funds to corporations.  The technological solutions would potentially allow a convict to have a continuous work experience, which would allow him or her to either continue or work or get training.

      Of course there are other considerations. It is possible that some go to jail because they like the the food and housing.  Therefore we must divert resources spent on prisons to food and housing.

      There is also an issue of who is locked up.  For instance, I hear we are going to waste time and money trying to convict the person who might have sold drugs to Hoffman.  This I do not understand, unless the drugs were bad.  When I was in school, I saw people who could deal with life, and people who couldn't.  I saw people like Rush Limbaugh that when they had a problem they found drugs, and others who found other ways to solve it.  In this case I can't see how wasting money locking up a dealer is going to do anything that save lives will just find another way to end all to soon.  Pay for treatment, not jails.

  •  For certain jobs, it's a prerequisite (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    elwior

    "Do you think what we're doing is wrong?"

    "Of course it's wrong!  It's illegal!"

    "I've never done anything illegal before."

    "I thought you said you were an accountant!"

    La majestueuse égalité des lois, qui interdit au riche comme au pauvre de coucher sous les ponts, de mendier dans les rues, et de voler du pain.

    by dconrad on Thu Feb 13, 2014 at 01:11:54 PM PST

  •  We really do need better approaches for what (0+ / 0-)

    happens to people after prison, so they can more simply be part of the mainstream of life in our country.  

    The most important way to protect the environment is not to have more than one child.

    by nextstep on Thu Feb 13, 2014 at 03:15:43 PM PST

  •  I agree with this idea (3+ / 0-)

    However, what about background checks and credit checks?

    While I understand companies need to know who they are hiring, wouldn't a background check tell them about any prison time served?  And how would these recently released people ever pass a credit check?  Frankly, I think more people are being deprived of work because of that ridiculous infringement on privacy.

    Your flag decal won't get you into heaven anymore. John Prine -8.00,-5.79

    by Miss Blue on Sat Feb 15, 2014 at 09:06:35 AM PST

  •  Ban the box. And, 15. n/t (0+ / 0-)

    "Daddy, every time a bell rings, a Randian Libertaria­n picks up his Pan Am tickets for the Libertaria­n Paradise of West Dakota!"

    by unclebucky on Sat Feb 15, 2014 at 09:08:13 AM PST

  •  So obvious what the answer to the problem is (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Miss Blue

    education.

    "So listen, oh, Don't wait." Vampire Weekend.

    by Publius2008 on Sat Feb 15, 2014 at 09:09:21 AM PST

  •  My all time best research assistant, who did (14+ / 0-)

    world class work, was an ex-con. His resumé looked good, what there was of it, but there was an eighteen month gap. I asked him gently if he cared to share what that gap represented. He took a deep breath and said he was committed to always answering that question honestly; he had been in prison.

    It was over marijuana charges; I think in addition to his own possession it may have involved larger amounts that were being stored in the house he was renting. Everything else looked good and I hired him.

    He later on told me he had had sixty interviews before I hired him. My own reflection at the time was, if marijuana should keep you from being employed, both my brothers would have been out of work all their lives.

    He was such a remarkable RA. His images were literally the best in the world, because he was so committed to the experiments that he did them in one long session, rather than storing samples overnight and finishing them later.



    Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? . . . and respect the dignity of every human being.

    by Wee Mama on Sat Feb 15, 2014 at 09:10:54 AM PST

  •  I'm of two minds about this. From personal (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    political mutt, Magic Menk, SheLawyer

    experience.  Our son is in a middle school basketball league and the coach hired by the league proved himself to be an irascible, emotionally unstable guy.  Would swing from yelling at the kids in a violent way to being really passive and not giving them training during the practice sessions.  The kids were really unhappy.  Finally the league did some digging and found out that he had been charged a couple of years before with for some kind of assault felony.  He had lied about that on the application form; he'd said "no" when he was asked whether or not he had ever been arrested or charged with a felony.  The league confronted him and dismissed him, and we parents were shaken.  They didn't want to tell us what kind of assault he'd been found guilty of, but we could see, from how he'd been with our kids, that it was plausible that he could have assaulted someone in the past.  

    It turns out that depending on the search mechanism employers use, felony records won't turn up.  The league uses one kind of search but now is thinking of switching to another search that is more comprehensive, so as to avoid this problem in the future.

    Where I'm of two minds is that these are kids he was working with, and kids who were feeling emotionally jerked around by him because of his obvious tendencies toward violence.  I understand that he needed the job but he should not have been applying to work with kids anyway; and he certainly shouldn't have lied about it on his application.

    That's one more thing to add to my long list of small problems. --my son, age 10

    by concernedamerican on Sat Feb 15, 2014 at 09:15:54 AM PST

    •  In this case, the box did no good anyway because (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Loge, political mutt

      he lied about the felony.  He didn't check the box anyway.  There has to be a way to find out easily whether or not someone did indeed commit a felony.

      That's one more thing to add to my long list of small problems. --my son, age 10

      by concernedamerican on Sat Feb 15, 2014 at 09:18:23 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Then what's the point of banning the box (5+ / 0-)

        (-5.50,-6.67): Left Libertarian
        Leadership doesn't mean taking a straw poll and then just throwing up your hands. -Jyrinx

        by Sparhawk on Sat Feb 15, 2014 at 09:32:07 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  The point is to let them interview (3+ / 0-)

          So the potential boss will have to judge them as individuals rather than the "felon"  label. A background check is still fine, and during the interview the question can be asked. It's about giving people the chance to explain themselves.

          Is fheàrr fheuchainn na bhith san dùil

          by bull8807 on Sat Feb 15, 2014 at 09:42:01 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Some background checks won't pick up on felony (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            political mutt

            convictions depending on the kinds of records they access.

            That's one more thing to add to my long list of small problems. --my son, age 10

            by concernedamerican on Sat Feb 15, 2014 at 09:52:21 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

          •  But, employers... (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Magic Menk

            ...can just decide to run the criminal background check before the interview in order to save money on wasted interview time if the policy was not to hire someone with a conviction. The decision to do this would be be a financial one that considered the employer's cost to interview and the percentage of "on paper" qualified applicants that had records.

            If the employer really doesn't care about certain types of convictions, they can specify so next to the box. I've worked at places that had the box on the app but said to exclude certain convictions (mostly drug related ones with small maximum possible penalties and, IIRC, some types that were excluded if they were some number of years in the past).

            If an employer is going to reject the candidate as a matter of policy if a final background check shows something, it's a waste of everyone's time to eliminate the box.

            •  Confronting individual humanity (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              glitterlust

              in addition to data, rather than the facts without context, appears to get people who used to operate that way to make changes. It's a small step in a larger push to help society stop stigmatizing people who have been through the prison system. It's not about hiding anything that won't be found eventually and there are specific industries where people criminal records are just not going to be allowed into (child/elder care, handling prescriptions, etc.), but most people realize at least theoretically that having a drug conviction shouldn't preclude a person from becoming an accountant or a librarian some day. When even minimum wage jobs have a prerequisite on criminal history regardless of circumstances, what are the millions of people coming out of prison over the next few decades supposed to do? Almost all of these people we've been locking up at an increasing rate are getting out some day, in massive numbers. They will have difficulty figuring out how to get up on their own to go to work every day after a decade in prison, waking up every day at the same time. Applying for jobs with no work history is hard enough too. They have very little chance to succeed as it is. We want these people to be productive citizens who can support themselves. We have to figure out a better way to transition them from prison to free society or there will be disastrous effects on crime and our economy.

              Is fheàrr fheuchainn na bhith san dùil

              by bull8807 on Sat Feb 15, 2014 at 11:09:48 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  That really is what it boils down to (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                ZenTrainer
                what are the millions of people coming out of prison over the next few decades supposed to do?
                Lots of interesting perspectives among the comments here, but at the end of the day, when it is so easy to preemptively disqualify someone because they have a record, how in the heck is that person supposed to support him- or herself lawfully?

                I can understand many of the positions here regarding the box, but there has to be something better than the current system of mass incarcerations plus zero options back on the outside. Of course it feeds into recidivism, not to mention prolongs the cycle of poverty and hopelessness for those left behind.

                •  What The Person Should Do (0+ / 0-)

                  Beyond not committing the crime in the first place? They should simply keep trying. Eventually they'll find something.

                  •  You're right to an extent (0+ / 0-)

                    In this discussion, it's hard to argue with the first principle, do not break the law, period. I don't think anyone would argue in favor of breaking the law. I certainly wouldn't.

                    I think the issue the diarist is raising is the fact that there are many former convicts who went away for minor crimes, and many who went away innocently, who are thrust back into society with significant roadblocks to building a life for themselves post-prison. It's easy to say, "Well, you shouldn't have broken the law in the first place, so deal with it." That attitude elides so much that is wrong with our approach to justice and punishment.

                    It's hard to talk about this issue because, yes, we're talking about people who broke the law. The wellbeing of law-abiding citizens, the vast, vast, majority of the population, is paramount, and no one here is advocating giving active, dangerous criminals a free pass or an outlet to reoffend.

                    But the fact remains, there are hundreds of thousands of people -- largely men of color -- who are incarcerated for low-level crimes. Shouldn't we have some system in place to help them build a lawful, sustainable life when they get out? We can shame and demonize someone for getting caught with a joint, but should that mean his entire future is ruined - and that he is thus forever on the dole or a perpetual convict?

                    •  Response (0+ / 0-)

                      The ex-con I hired was a large, scary looking white guy who had done hard time in the joint, i.e., state prison. At least in WA State in the 2000s, you didn't go to Walla Walla for smoking a joint, unless you were smoking a joint right after you'd ... well, whatever.

                      Should there be a system to help ex-cons re-enter? Sure, in principle anyway. But in practice, it's going to boil down to people. But let me go back to the subject of this diary, which is the idea of actually prohibiting a prospective employer from inquiring about an applicant's criminal record.

                      If that law had been in effect when I hired the guy (who worked out pretty well), I'd have never hired him. See, I already knew about his record. The box on the form was an integrity test, that's all. Prohibit me from doing that, and we're done here.

                      I know you don't want to hear that answer, but I'm being completely candid with you. The hard part about honesty is that it's honest. The even harder part is handling honesty.

                      •  I appreciate your experience (0+ / 0-)

                        and I'm glad to hear your perspective on this issue.

                        I think we largely agree. There should be a system to help those -- even those who broke the law, flaunted it even -- reenter society. Private employers are free to not hire such individuals. Private employers are free to do pretty much whatever they want (excepting of course those boundaries set by the Civil Rights Act of 1964).

                        I think the spirit of this diary is the solid fact that we have too many people in jail, many of them there for questionable or minor charges; that we need to reform the prison-industrial complex; and that we need to reform drug laws.

                        As you've said, one attitude toward crime is, "just don't do it!" And who would disagree? But you can ride that position all the way down. So many of those in our prisons didn't birth themselves thinking, I want to break the law and disrupt society. It's a cycle, of poverty, of hopelessness. Are there some who choose a life of crime, murder, rape, molestation, etc? Of course. But they are the outliers.

                        Our culture of "never forgive" does no one any favors. If we treat every man or woman who does time as a pariah, our republic suffers. Sure, maybe, maybe an ex-con can find some job, eventually, but how does that serve you or me? I'm not trying to say that those who did bad deserve a leg-up, or that we should coddle offenders; nor am I trying to say that law-abiding citizens should pay some price for those who broke the law.

                        And, no, I don't want a sex offender looking after my kids, or a convicted tax fraud doing my taxes, but I think the spirit of the diary pertains to those who are wrongfully convicted or have records based upon minor drug charges and the like.

                      •  You could have still asked him (0+ / 0-)

                        At the interview with these laws in place.

      •  These Days ... (0+ / 0-)

        ... more and more employers simply do an on-line background check. The box on the form is mainly an integrity check.

  •  What an excellent diary (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    SoCalSocialist

    I have always thought that putting all kinds of barriers up for ex-cons in such things as employment and even things like voting rights does nothing but recreate the situation many of these people lived in that got them into prison in the first place.

    I understand that there are jobs that necessitate asking whether or not someone is an ex-con.  I won't try to list those here because some would just have a target put on them for people to argue against them being on the list in the first place.  That's not the point.  

    However, most employers don't need to know if a person was convicted and served "x" amount of years for a crime he/she committed "x" number of years ago.  And, with the results shown here for states that HAVE taken this bold step, it proves that it will help these people and will not be a big problems for employers.  

    Thank you for the diary.  Really excellent.

  •  The box is metastasizing... (2+ / 0-)

    spreading across the country.  I moved into a new apartment six months ago.  The paperwork was relatively simple and sensible.  New owners purchased the large (very large complex -  here in FL recently)  Within a few days, everyone had new paperwork stuck in their door-knockers asking if anyone living here had ever been arrested for even a misdemeanor in their entire lives. Some are in their '60's +.  Needless to say, the new paperwork was ignored by many tenants.

    I am amazed at the amount and type of information asked for (and given) that is really not required nor necessary for anyone else to know.  For example I was once married (heterosexual) many years ago for a few years.  I then had two separate long term gay relationships (ea 3 times longer than the marriage).  And, happy to say, I had countless short term affairs and sexual encounters and one night stands in my life (nice memories, mostly).  Theywould need their own separate Addendum - for me to be truthful, complete & accurate.  I am over sixty-five.

    I am so sorry our society has become this fucked up.  It is beyond insane.

    •  Plus imagine living through the Big Change (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      reflectionsv37

      For example,when I served in the USAF in the late '60's - early '70's - there was no drug testing.  Without being a whistleblower and having served in Vietnam, can you imagine how many US military I knew who probably used marijuana (even pilots and crew members)?  And, other drugs.  Remember the country was going through a "Psychedelic and drug revolution - especially younger Americans.  Then later, in the '80's & '90's I worked in a state position involved with family abuse reports and the courts.  We had tremendous power and responsibility in being able to remove children from any home in the state, simply by going to court with a 24 hrs after doing so.  Again, state employees were not drug tested.

      From my perspective, and since I taught Const. & Criminal Law, I  believe the constitution (in a true sense) does not allow for drug testing of all individuals in a class, even if their work is critical.  I believe those who do use or are suspected of using can be dealt with harshly when it is determined that the abuse is likely and then proven.

      I always taught that police stops for say, a broken taillight - as an excuse to search a car, were unconstitutional.  I haven't taught for a long time.  Who knows what goes in the US of A now?

  •  The Private Prison Industry (6+ / 0-)

    is a multi-Billion dollar industry and amounts to the modern day slave trade.

    Private prisons like GEO group and CCA get sweetheart deals with states that must provide them with inmates, often healthy black males that are incarcerated for drug offenses or other non-violent crimes, because they are the most affordable to care after. Using non-union Correctional Officers, they maximize profits while getting paid by the government.

    These men often start out life at a disadvantage because of poverty and low-income neighborhoods with few opportunities for work or education, so they get involved in criminal activity as a means to survive. It's an endless cycle as once they get arrested the first time, they are all the more likely to keep going back, making millions and millions of dollars in revenue for the prison industry.

  •  Because Americans Love Revenge (3+ / 0-)

    Paying your debt to society isn't enough for some people. They want you to suffer forever.

    And as the song and dance begins, the children play at home with needles, needles and pins.

    by The Lone Apple on Sat Feb 15, 2014 at 10:17:50 AM PST

  •  I have to agree that it is not right to keep (0+ / 0-)

    punishing an individual after they have been convicted and served any required time. 6% to 60% employment certainly shows a worthwhile improvement. If rehabilitation and a productive life is the goal then Minneapolis has shown the way.

    Never promote men who seek after a state-established religion; it is spiritual tyranny--the worst of despotism. It is turnpiking the way to heaven by human law, in order to establish ministerial gates to collect toll. John Leland

    by J Edward on Sat Feb 15, 2014 at 10:43:52 AM PST

  •  Have just confronted this, and (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Magic Menk, SheLawyer

    my ultimate decision may really offend people here.

    I have just hired someone.  It's been difficult for me because I'm socially phobic and have made some bad hires in the past, which have really cost me. At least the bad experiences have taught me some of the traits I need to look for, including judgment and integrity.

    My application has a box asking about felony convictions, but I am not very organized and I broke one of my own rules against considering people who drop in with a resume--and I ended up interviewing a young woman who seemed very nice, serious, and motivated, without getting her to fill out my form.

    It was only after calling the references on my other interviewee that I decided she (the other one) was a stronger candidate.  She had a strong track record on every trait I'd identified.

    But I liked the young woman a lot.  I didn't want to give up on her.  For the sake of completeness I Googled her.  Found her at the state Department of Public Safety.  Possessing stolen property and larceny of firearms.  In this county, if they can find a way to be lenient, they do.  That she was convicted and jailed raises big questions about those key traits of judgment and integrity.  My financial viability is on a tightrope and a bad hire now could sink me.

    I'm very relieved that that information is public and that this woman has a distinctive name, and will admit that I resolved not to consider anyone who didn't fill out my application (with its box) again.

    I fault myself for not picking up on how hard it was to figure out her employment chronology from her resume.  Live and learn. I think the lesson is that you have to go through all of these details for every single candidate even if it takes your brain 'way past numb.

    I don't fault the young woman for not volunteering the information.  I wish her well.  But I'm not risking my family's financial well-being on someone who has a black mark in two areas where I need a shining star.

    Deep breath.

    I guess what others are saying is that in future, instead of having a box, I could

    -insist on having the employment chronology laid out in linear fashion;

    -ask about any gaps;

    -ask about any convictions (very hard with my social issues, but if I planned ahead and worked up to it, I probably could).

    This wouldn't protect me if a candidate lied.  

    For what it's worth, I think I'd be willing to hire someone with a marijuana conviction, but once having had an employee leave a bloody syringe in my bathroom, I'm a bit leery of even that.  I suppose I could drug test them as a condition of employment.

    I'm stuck.  I agree with everyone here that it's wrong for a felony conviction to ruin a person's whole life--but as an employer I want all the protection I can get. Because gross dishonesty, multiple bad judgment calls, or a bust for drugs on my property could ruin me.

    •  It's still your choice and your business (3+ / 0-)

      You have every right to make the call you did, the point is you thought about it and did due diligence in both speaking to her and looking up her background. You gave her a chance and considered her. That's all people can ask of you. I don't think anyone would fault you here.

      Is fheàrr fheuchainn na bhith san dùil

      by bull8807 on Sat Feb 15, 2014 at 11:29:20 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Since I am currently living this scenario (5+ / 0-)

    I can say unequivocally that life is tough for anyone getting out of prison, even those who are trying to do the  right thing. We really need laws to prevent housing discrimination based on criminal record.

    Peace, Love, and Prosperity. See more on the R. Crosby Lyles channel on YouTube.

    by Rich Lyles on Sat Feb 15, 2014 at 10:49:17 AM PST

  •  Having been there (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    untorqued

    I can say unequivocally that life is tough for anyone getting out of prison, even those who are trying to do the  right thing. We really need laws to prevent housing discrimination based on criminal record.

    Peace, Love, and Prosperity. See more on the R. Crosby Lyles channel on YouTube.

    by Rich Lyles on Sat Feb 15, 2014 at 10:50:40 AM PST

  •  I like the idea... (0+ / 0-)

    People do change.  There is a great way to end the revolving door to prison.  There is nothing to prevent an employer from asking the question in the interview.  My only question is that could a company continue to use that check box if its material.  For instance, a pharmaceutical company looking for warehouse employees.  The warehouse in question is used to store opioid pharmaceuticals.  I think a case could be made to exclude people formerly involved in the drug trade or recovering addicts from working in this warehouse.  

    Thoughts?  

    I'm a 4 Freedoms Democrat.

    by DavidMS on Sat Feb 15, 2014 at 10:54:33 AM PST

  •  most convicts start (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Magic Menk

    behind the 8 ball anyways.

    1) Poor literacy, education
    2) Drug/alcohol abuse
    3) Poverty.

    add in some risk taking and any personality disorders
    and they are poor job candidates.

  •  What I don't understand (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Magic Menk, AlexDrew

    There's a "ban the box" movement here in RI. But from what I gather from overhearing conversations on the bus, it's not "the box" that's keeping people from getting jobs. It's the requirement for a criminal background check (even for the most menial jobs that do not involve contact with children or whatever), plus having to have a valid drivers' license (which many don't due to past DUIs, failure to pay fines, or whatever), plus drug screening.

    In addition, anyone who has done time in jail will have a gap in their resume, which I gather is pretty much a red flag regardless of why -- employers consider it evidence of some sort of problem, and will pass over you for someone without those questions. It's a variation on why long-term unemployed can't get jobs.

    So yes, it may help you get past the initial screening, but I don't see that this really influences who can actually get a job.

  •  On most applications I've seen... (0+ / 0-)

    ...where there is the question about whether you have been convicted, there is usually space to explain if you say yes.  Arrests should not be asked for, though, since you are innocent until proven guilty.

  •  I'd be interested to see what effects can (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    nextstep, Magic Menk

    be documented from something like this.

    It seems to me that, for an employer for who a criminal background would be an important consideration, all this would do would be to increase the cost to employers, who would do more themselves to find out about any criminal background before they bring someone in for an interview.  Either that, or they would be taking time (which in some areas, is an extra expense) to interview someone that, when they do conduct that background search, they would not hire anyway. That seems to me to be a waste of time for everybody.  If it's a job where a criminal felony conviction, for example, is an deal-killer for an employer, why waste the employer's time in conducting the interview, and the potential employee's time (and perhaps money) in getting to the interview, when a criminal record is going to be a disqualification?  

    So, I'd be interested to see stats on whether banning that question on a job application increases actual hiring of those with criminal backgrounds, or simply increases the number of interviews they get.

    And no, I don't see how you can legally prevent employers from considering a felony conviction in hiring.  Prohibition against discrimination in hiring is based on who you are, not what you do.  For many job positions, for example, honesty is a job prerequisite (like if you handle money) so a felony conviction for some kind of theft, or fraud, or something like that would, to many employers, be an absolute disqualification.  To me, it's up to the employer to decide whether the job necessitates that someone not have a criminal conviction.  

    I think someone like our new U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite has been advocating makes more sense.  He is pushing the business community to voluntarily engage in a program that hires those with lesser criminal convictions. I've heard him speak on the topic. He is, however, realistic.   He recognizes that one concern of business in hiring those with criminal convictions is that, if the employee then does something that could potentially harm someone (physically or financially) as a result of that employment, the employer could be subject to a negligent hiring claim -- that an employer is liable for what the employee does because the employer knew, or should have known, about the employee's background. For example, suppose I hire someone to make deliveries to people, but he has a criminal conviction for burglary.  When he delivers something to a home, he checks out the home, security systems, whatever.  He later returns and burglarizes the home.  If I am the employer, who put that person in that position, I face a possible lawsuit from the homeowner for putting a person with that background in that position.  See more discussion here and here.

     U.S. Attorney Polite recognized, in speaking on the subject, that any program that encourages business to hire people with criminal records would have to be accompanied by some kind of legal protection against employers for those kinds of claims; otherwise, most employers would not want to voluntarily assume the risk for an employee's actions when the employer knew that the employee has a criminal felony conviction.  

    •  Gov't Should Always Favor the Law Abiding (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      AlexDrew

      I'm fine with businesses and people who hire ex-cons. I've done it myself. But I knew about his background. To be prohibited from asking is going way too far, in my opinion.

      Remember what Bill Clinton famously said about working hard and playing by the rules? Well, if you commit a felony, you didn't play by the rules. I might hire you and I might not, but I should not be banned from inquiring about it.

      Besides any of that, the proposals are unrealistic anyway, at least for private employers. The box is less for information than for integrity. We do background checks as a standard item anyway. Your record? It's a public record.

      Where this could have an impact is in public jobs. Do I want, for example, Seattle's public electric utility to be prohibited from checking the criminal record of a prospective employee who'll enter peoples' houses? What if he's been in the joint for sexual assault, or for burglary?

      The best advice I can give to an ex-offender is to be up front and hope for the best. I'll help out when it works to do it, but this ought to be my choice, and my choice alone.

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