More than 70 members of Congress are calling on President Barack Obama to “ban the box” for federal jobs.
The “box” in question is one that appears on federal hiring applications, asking job seekers if they have a criminal record. As part of an effort to reduce mass incarceration, many around the country have rallied for local governments and workplaces to “ban the box” from their hiring forms.
Now Congress is getting in on the action—by asking President Obama to take action.
“One in four Americans has a conviction history, which often excludes them from the workforce and from housing, creating new layers of crisis for our communities,” said Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) in a statement released Thursday.
“Ban the box is important for incarcerated individuals to have dignified lives,” Davis added.
In their letter to the president, the members of Congress wrote, “We urge you to build on your administration’s commitment to adopting fair-chance hiring reforms by committing the federal government to do its part to eliminate unnecessary barriers to employment for people with criminal records.”
The U.S. continues to lead the world in the rate of incarceration. More than 70 million Americans have an arrest or conviction that would likely show up in a routine criminal-background check, according to the National Employment Law Project. Blacks and Hispanics are disproportionately affected. Studies have shown that 1 in 3 African-American men will spend some time in prison during his lifetime.
The Congress members want the president to sign an executive order requiring federal contractors to refrain from inquiring about criminal records in the first stages of the hiring process.
“Banning the box in federal hiring would help those who are fighting for a fair opportunity to show their qualifications for employment … it is the smart thing to do for our national economy, which sorely needs the talents and contributions of all of our citizens,” said Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) in a statement.
“The federal government should not be in the business of erecting barriers between those who have made a mistake and are looking [for] a job,” Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), who is leading the effort, said in a statement Thursday.
“Almost 1 in 3 adults in the United States has a criminal record … this creates a serious barrier to employment for millions of workers, especially in communities of color hardest hit by decades of overcriminalization,” said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), who is the ranking member on the House Judiciary’s Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations.
Six states have already adopted “ban the box” laws. Several private companies have now adopted “fair chance” hiring including: Wal-Mart, Koch Industries, Home Depot, Bed Bath & Beyond and Target. More than 90 cities and counties have also adopted “ban the box” policies.
The effort is supported by activist groups Policy Link, the American Civil Liberties Union and All of Us or None, which are pushing a national initiative to assist ex-offenders to re-enter society after serving time in jail.
Dorsey Nunn, of All of Us or None, who supports the effort by the members of Congress, said, “This effort could not have come at a better time to reflect that all black lives matter, including the lives of people with arrest and conviction histories.”