A 10-year-old marijuana conviction should not keep one from getting a job, but a simple question can cost thousands of people an employment opportunity.
It is a problem faced by an estimated 650,000 people released from prison each year, thanks to one question on a job application asking, “Have you ever been convicted by a court?”
This question can take away money from their pockets, food to feed their children and even a place to live.
Even though a felony charge does not mean a person is violent or in any way a threat to those around him, there is a stigma and assumption made by the employer that this person can be a hazard simply by checking the “Yes” box.
This blacklists applicants without proper introduction. Their foot never even gets through the door.
Grassroots organization All of Us or None, which fights for the incarcerated and their families, came up with the simple idea of taking this question off job applications to alleviate those obstacles faced by the formerly incarcerated. So far, “Ban the Box” legislation has been passed in 60 cities and 12 states.
It makes sense that employers would be more likely to hire people if they have seen their face and heard their story, and Ban the Box legislation allows these people a chance to get a face-to-face interview.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics 2013 bulletin, there were 196,574 sentenced prisoners. Of these, 99,426 had a drug offense and only 11,688 had violent offenses.
That is almost 100,000 people being denied employment for nonviolent crimes easily deemed as mistakes or circumstance. This includes, of course, marijuana.
Ban the Box does not, however, require the employer to hire these applicants. A background check can still be done to give employers the opportunity to see the conviction and decide for themselves whether or not it is something that will actually affect their ability to perform the job.
This does not, and should not, apply to jobs considered sensitive, such as those working with children.
The unfortunate stigma especially affects minorities. African Americans are imprisoned at almost 10 times the rate of Caucasians for drug crimes even though the latter uses illegal drugs at a rate five times higher, according to the NAACP.
Additionally, there is a correlation between lack of opportunities after release and re-offense. According to a study by the National Institute of Justice, having a conviction of any kind reduces one’s interview opportunities by 50 percent.
No one should leave prison and not be allowed the ability to earn a living wage to survive, and there is no sense in denying a nonviolent person a job. Ban the Box would allow those who have been convicted of a crime a possible second chance.
A convicted felon does not equate to a bad person. It equates to a lack of resources or lack of education, or, quite likely, being young and stupid.
In January, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn approved a Ban the Box ordinance for city employees and advocates are attempting to include city contractors.
Spreading this movement through all cities in the U.S. will help the economy and keep those who have a felony conviction from re-offending due to circumstance. Perfectly good workers should not fall to the wayside because of society’s ignorance of the flawed hiring system.
Amber Carles Klee is a junior majoring in communications and sociology.