It’s been calculated that one in four African American men is likely to serve time in prison. Given current employment practices – which exclude hiring persons who have been to prison – this means that a quarter of all black men are likely to never find work, many of whom have been sentenced for minor drug offenses like marijuana possession.
Needless to say, the employer practice of asking job applicants whether they have been to jail applies to all regardless of race or gender excluding ex-offenders from leading productive work lives.
President Obama’s announcement this week of “banning the box” for applicants to federal jobs grows out of a nationwide movement to end this discriminatory practice.
To date over 100 cities and 19 states have adopted “fair chance” hiring practices that forbid asking the have-you-been-to-jail question at the beginning of the hiring process. Employers can, however, do criminal background checks later on.
Obama’s executive action, which is one of several he has taken in the area of criminal justice, is to be applauded. It’s an important step in the right direction.
Some wish the president had gone further and included federal contractors in his order. Wade Henderson of the Leadership Council on Civil and Human Rights said, “While the president is with us in spirit, his administration is not yet ready to make an executive order a reality.”
The argument regarding requiring federal contractors to ban the box is that congressional action is necessary to give the measure weight and avoid its being undone by an incoming administration.
Perhaps. But while bipartisan legislation has been introduced (the “Fair Chance Act” in Congress) the dominance of the Republican right makes its passage unlikely.
Labor has welcomed President Obama’s action. Supporting the president’s announcement Richard Trumka said, “Measures such as Ban the Box are the right approach to ease the job hunt for working people with prior convictions. President Obama is taking important steps to help all people get back to work and become contributing members of their local communities.”
The AFL-CIO went further calling for other democratic reforms: an end to private prisons and an end to the practice of taking voting rights away from prisoners.
However, in today’s circumstances, as the Black Lives Matter movement and other civil and human rights activists have pointed out, a radical reform of the criminal justice system is needed that includes drug legalization, overturning the death penalty, civilian review and control of police and others measures. Banning the box is an important step. Ongoing pressure will insure others are taken.
Photo: Zoom Village