Over the last fifteen years, civil rights organizers have successfully forced an issue into the spotlight that benefits more than 70 million Americans who have criminal records.

The movement’s official name, Ban the Box, refers to the space listed on an application which mandates that applicants check whether they’ve been convicted of a crime. Historically, these applicants have received far fewer opportunities from employers who often base their decisions solely off of this box.

But with millions of Americans released from prison each year, this practice not only excludes them from a fair hiring process, it creates a trap that makes it increasingly hard for a felon to turn around his or her life.

This has been the heart of the work for thousands of civil rights organizers who wish to make these ‘second chances’ for past felons easier and less stigmatized.

“It’s time for him to give millions of Americans a second chance and a fair chance at employment and opportunity,” said Nancy Zirkin, Vice president of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. Zirkin addressed her opinion to President Obama last fall. She was joined by more than 70 groups and union organizations who continue to lobby for the removal of the box.

The movement continues to grow at a fast rate. Today, more than 100 jurisdictions have adopted the removal of the box in favor of more equitable hiring practices. The ultimate goal? Federally mandating a national standard that will help all individuals and communities return to work and recover faster.

As an employer, it’s important to understand the hiring guidelines enacted in your jurisdiction. Nationally, the EEOC suggests the following guidelines to make hiring decisions more fair

  • The nature and gravity of the offense
  • The time that has passed since the conviction and/or the completion of the sentence
  • The nature of the job held or sought

When hiring, it’s advisable to  avoid making blanket assessments. Blanket assessments have traditionally excluded individuals with criminal records, however, utilizing an individualized approach when assessing a candidate is preferred. This includes interviewing an applicant based on his or her merit, not on past mistakes. It’s also advisable to allow applicants to speak on the behalf of their criminal records. Often times, these records hold false information that should not be used when making hiring decisions.

Employment stands as one of the most significant ways to help individuals with criminal records transform their lives, their families, and their communities. Contact me if you’d like to discuss ways you can amend your hiring practices to make for more inclusory decisions that will affect and benefit your entire workforce.