According to the National Employment Law Center (NELP), about 65 million Americans have a criminal record. The rapid expansion of online record searches has made it easier for employers to run background checks on potential employees, and more challenging for potential employees to get a job. According to a 2010 survey by the Society for Human Resources Management, nearly 90 percent of employers surveyed, revealed that they conducted criminal background checks on job applicants.
Ban the Box is a movement to get rid of questions on job applications that ask about criminal history. Already more than 40 cities and counties have passed Ban the Box laws, and this year, Newark, New Jersey will implement the most sweeping Ban the Box law yet, which extends to public and private employers.Youth Radio spoke with Cornell William Brooks, President and CEO of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, who worked with city lawmakers to bring Ban the Box to Newark.
YOUTH RADIO: Can you tell me about Ban the box in Newark? What’s it all about and how does it work?
Cornell William Brooks: We have Americans, many of whom are young, who, when they are seeking work, are confronted on the employment app with a real serious and high barrier, it’s called a box. And this box asks the question, “have you ever been arrested or convicted of a crime?” That seems like a reasonable question on its face, except when you check that box you are literally consigning your employment application to file 13– the trashcan.
YR: Why in Newark does the law extend to privately owned businesses?
YR: Critics say this law tramples on employers’ rights. What do you say to them?Brooks: It extends to privately owned businesses because most people work in the private sector versus the public sector. In other words, is it enough for young people or an older person with a minor criminal record to have access to only public employment?
Brooks: It in no way tramples on employers rights. This law in no way circumscribes, limits, suppresses the discretion of employers to find the best people they can. The only thing this law does, is postpone when the question is asked about a persons criminal background. Not if.
YR: Your organization is now working to pass statewide Ban the Box legislation. Would that make New Jersey less competitive in terms of attracting business?
Brooks: Massachusetts, Hawaii, Colorado and New Mexico and counties and cities all across the country have a ban the box law and we’re not hearing from mayors or governors saying they’ve had businesses fleeing their jurisdictions as a consequence of this law. Governors and mayors and CEO’s have lived with and under this law, and have been able to ensure the shareholders value, satisfy customers, and make a payroll. There is nothing in this law that is, in anyway, anti-competitive, and it will not, in any way, disadvantage the state of New Jersey.
YR: Why is Ban the Box important?
Brooks: If you believe in fairness. If you believe in the American worker, then you have to believe in policies that promote the opportunity for people to compete for work. Why should a person spend 2 or 3 years behind bars for a drug possession or a drug distribution charge then spend the rest of their lives, based on one offense, being less able to compete for work?