This week President Obama announced that his administration will “ban the box” and require federal agencies to wait until later in the hiring process to check the criminal histories of job applicants.
As President Obama told a group of men when he visited a federal prison in July, the idea is, “If they have a chance to at least meet you, you’re able to talk to them about your life, what you’ve done. Maybe they give you a chance.”
Studies show that when job applicants have to check a box on an application indicating they have a criminal record, the chance of getting called back for an interview drops by 50 percent. But personal contact with a potential employer makes it more likely that applicants with criminal records will get called back.
Employment is critical to successful re-entry into society. Nineteen states and more than 100 cities and counties have adopted “fair-chance hiring” policies to help formerly incarcerated people get jobs. There is not yet much data about how such policies are working, but in Durham, North Carolina, which banned the box in city government hiring in 2011, more than 15 percent of city employees had criminal records by 2014, a seven-fold increase.
One important impact of adopting fair-chance hiring policies at the federal level is to broaden the national conversation about the collateral consequences of mass incarceration. People with criminal records face discrimination not only in hiring, but many are barred from housing and food assistance and from obtaining professional licenses.
These consequences, which often devastate entire families and communities, disproportionately affect African Americans. Because men of color start the job seeking process burdened with a presumption of guilt and criminality, those with criminal records are doubly disadvantaged in hiring. In fact, where the box is not banned, researchers found that white applicants with criminal records were more likely to be called back for interviews than Black applicants without criminal records. Even with the kind of personal contact that the Obama Administration will now require, only 6 percent of Black applicants were called back.