Giving Ex-Cons a 2nd Chance by Banning the Box
The box – that’s how those who have been incarcerated think of it. It’s the box you have to check if you’ve ever been convicted of a single minor crime. This single line on an employment form can make it difficult for someone to ever get a good job – forever.
What the Box Means
The box is a line on any employment form. Anyone who has done any kind of crime needs to check the box if they have served time. This applies to those who have a murder conviction. It also applies to those who have a minor drug conviction for possession of a single marijuana cigarette when they were twenty. Even thirty years later, the applicant must still check the box when filling out an employment form for a job.
The Anti-Box Movement
In recent years advocates have argued in favor of banning the box on an employment form. They point out that many people have completed their time, done their debt to society and yet still must pay for their crimes. Those who must check the box know that employers are unlikely to hire them. They know that all too many employers do not care why someone checks the box.
Disqualification from Employment
Many advocates point out that many employers will automatically refuse to hire someone who checks that box. They will make a unilateral decision to simply refuse employment when the applicant checks the box – even if the prospective employee has the qualifications, skills and education necessary to do the job. Checking that box means that they will not get hired for the job.
The box does not affect all people equally. A young man from the upper classes with money has parents who can hire a lawyer. Should their son get into trouble with the law in some way, the lawyer can make sure they do not get a lasting conviction. The same is not true for many poor minorities. Many young black men are more likely to be stopped by the police. This is because they happen to be living in neighborhoods that are more likely to be crime ridden and have a heavier police presence. As a result, they tend to get searched more often.
Joe Rich Guy
Under the present legal system, two people can commit the exact same minor crime. Joe Rich Guy has a single driving under the influence. He gets a good lawyer. He gets the case dismissed. Or he gets probation for his client. Joe Rich Guy gets a clean slate in life. Joe Rich Guy never has to mention to anyone what happened to him. He can go apply for any job he wants without the employer knowing about his prior conviction.
John the Poor Man
John the poor man isn’t quite as lucky. He also has a single incident where he’s caught driving drunk. He has no money for a lawyer. His court assigned advocate has thirty-five cases on his roster. He has no time to fully investigate his client’s history or any kind of mitigating factor. He meets with John the poor man and tells him to take a plea. John the poor guy knows nothing of the justice system. He agrees to take the plea.
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The Net Result
So we have two people with pretty much the same minor crime. One person walks away because he has good legal counsel. He never needs to talk about his crime. Another person isn’t so lucky. He has a criminal conviction now. Every single time the second person looks for employment, he will need to check that box. The result is two sets of employment opportunities – one for the rich and another for the poor.
Many Incarcerated People in the US
The U.S. has one of the largest populations of people in prison. Hundreds of thousands of people are incarcerated each day in the United States. The vast majority have only done minor crimes. They have harmed no one. They haven’t murdered anyone or raped anyone or robbed another person. And yet a single mistake will haunt them for the rest of their lives.
The Only Fair Thing to Do
This is why the ban the box movement exists. Banning the box allows people to move on after committing a crime. Banning the box means that more Americans can have access to meaningful employment that allows them to reach their full potential. As the number of incarcerated people only continues to grow, it is clear that this movement has momentum. Many people hope for a day soon when all people will be equal in front of the law and in front of any potential employer.