Danielle Parhizkaran/The Record of Bergen County via AP
President Barack Obama speaks on criminal justice reform at the S.I. Newhouse Center for Law and Justice at Rutgers University in Newark on Monday, Nov. 2, 2015.

Obama 'bans the box' disclosing past crimes on federal job applications

The move has been a highly anticipated step for activists seeking to reform a system they say makes it difficult for former inmates to reintegrate into society.

In a move that has been an ongoing debate for months, President Obama announced Monday that all federal agencies must now remove the box that asks prospective employees about their criminal records.

It’s not too late,” President Obama said in a speech at Rutgers University on Monday. “There are people who have gone through tough times, they’ve made mistakes, but with a little bit of help, they can get on the right path. And that’s what we have to invest in. That’s what we have to believe. That’s what we have to promote.”

The move has been a highly anticipated step for activists seeking to reform a system that they say makes it difficult for former inmates to reintegrate into society. According to a poll conducted by The New York Times/CBS/Kaiser Family Foundation last February, 34 percent of men with criminal records are nonworking males between the ages of 25 and 54 – a number that has grown recently particularly among black men. The 2008 financial crisis exacerbated unemployment for those with criminal records, leaving many homeless and excluded from society.

“Prior to the prison boom, when convictions were restricted to a smaller fraction of the population, it wasn’t great for their rehab potential but it wasn’t having a huge impact,” Devah Pager, a Harvard sociology professor, told The New York Times. “Now such a large fraction of the population is affected that it has really significant implications, not just for those people, but for the labor market as a whole.”

In an unlikely occurrence, the “ban the box” move was supported by a bi-partisan alliance between Sen. Cory Booker (D) of New Jersey and Sen. Ron Johnson (R) of Wisconsin. While it’s too soon to predict major changes in the labor market, the move is the first widespread attempt to universalize an anti-discriminatory ban on former inmates.

But it’s not the first of its kind. Over 14 states and a handful of US cities have already passed similar laws forcing employers not to take criminal records into account until later stages in the hiring process. 

Still, some are worried the move won’t be enough. Some activists are pushing for a stricter executive order that would cover contractors.

Mr. Obama has been taking a series of small steps to improve prison reform and to promote the reintegration of former inmates into society. Last month, the United States Sentencing Commission announced it would be offering early release to roughly 6,000 federal prisoners in custody for drug offenses. The president has also supported small grants to help former inmates find jobs, learn software development, and expunge themselves of their criminal records.

Still, roughly 2.2 million remain in prison behind bars. 

“We incarcerate people at a rate that is unequaled around the world. We account for 5 percent of the world’s population, 25 percent of its inmates. They are disproportionately black and Latino,” Obama said in his recent visit to Newark.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Obama 'bans the box' disclosing past crimes on federal job applications
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today