Whether or not the formerly incarcerated can find legitimate employment is a key factor in their ability to stay out of prison and care for themselves and their families. Obviously, a criminal history makes it much harder for them to find jobs.
In fact, that is the most common question that we get at our San Quentin workshops:
How can I find a job with a record?
Over the last several years, a number of municipalities across the United States have adopted hiring policies for public jobs which eliminate the criminal history question from the application.
These "ban the box" policies are intended to allow qualified individuals with criminal histories to have a fighting chance in the application process. According to this great summary from the Second Chance Campaign of New Jersey, comprehensive city hiring policies include:
- the use of background check only for certain jobs when it is necessary based on objective critieria
- background checks later in the hiring process
- an opportunity to correct criminal history information and submit evidence of rehabilitation
- mitigating factors to be considered when evaluating applicants with criminal histories
Cities that have passed these policies include Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis, San Francisco, and probably most recently, New Haven, CT. Here is a matrix from the Safer Foundation of the hiring standards for the municipalities with a ban the box policy.
Obviously, employers have legitimate concerns regarding liability and the trustworthiness of who they hire. No one is suggesting that a bank hire a former bank robber, or that sex offenders be allowed to work with children. But if we as a society are serious about giving people a second chance, we need to examine policies which may be punishing qualified applicants unfairly long after their time has been served.