Fair Chance Hiring Policies and Ban the Box Campaigns are fantastic starts. However, they are just not enough. We cannot allow for the successes of these efforts to mask the deeper realities that continue to haunt those with criminal records and plague our society in general. Here are just a couple of reasons, of many.
Racialization of the Box
The unemployment rate for blacks is about double that among whites, as it has been for the past six decades. *See Pew Research
Over one-third of young blacks in the U.S. are out of work. And the jobless rate for young black male dropouts, including those incarcerated, has been 65%. *See Bruce Western, Punishment and Inequality in America, p. 90; Bureau of Labor Statistics data; and CNSNews
Studies indicate that white ex-offenders may actually have an easier time gaining employment than African Americans without a criminal record. *See Devah Pager, Marked: Race, Crime, and Finding Work in an Era of Mass Incarceration, pp. 90-91, 146-147
The association of race and criminality is so pervasive that some scholars suggest that black males may suffer more discrimination, not less, when particular criminal history information is unavailable. *See Devah Pager, Marked, among others
We live in a racialized society. We must admit our complicity, confess our silence, and repent. Turn away. Removing a box on an application is not enough if we don’t remove the boxes that separate us and devastate our hearts and minds and the soul of our society. This de-racialization, or a bit more simply the freedom to live in the Beloved Community, is no simple task. However, we are more than conquerors through our God who loves us. All of us. And the world will know us by our love. Love that conquers all that stands in its way. Go out today as more than conquerors, my friends. It is the only way for all of us to truly Live.
Do We Believe in Clean Slates Anymore?
Even if we get rid of the “box” and provide for Fair Chance Hiring policies, the criminal record still remains and the dehumanizing stigma persists. Eli Lehrer writes, “This doesn’t mean that ex-convicts should necessarily have to carry the stigma of an offense around the rest of their lives. In this case, the United Kingdom’s practice of allowing offenses to become “spent” deserves a close look in the U.S. In the UK, offenders that behave well can consider jail/prison time “spent” after seven or 10 years of good behavior. Once a sentence is spent, it isn’t mentioned in publicly available records and, for most purposes, it’s considered a non-issue. Recent criminal history can still be asked about and considered, however.” *see “Ban the Box” Goes Too Far… and Not Far Enough for a perspective questioning the effectiveness of “ban the box” policies. Although I do not agree that “ban the box” policies will not effectively accomplish much positive change for applicants with criminal records, I am fully supportive of policies that go much further in allowing for criminal records to become “spent”.
Why wouldn’t we wipe the slate clean after years of good behavior? Is that not what we would want for ourselves?
Finally, simply removing a box on an employment application does not address the myriad other ways that people with criminal records encounter legal discrimination. Over the next couple of days, I hope to paint a picture of the widespread, never-ending legal discrimination and dehumanizing stigma attached to the 1 in 4 American adults with criminal records. We must be creative, courageous, compassionate, and comprehensive problem-solvers as we confront and transform these pervasive structural and systemic evils.