Back in February, the New York Times reported on a national “ban the box” movement, which at first blush, probably isn’t self explanatory.
At issue is the role of criminal background checks for Americans who made mistakes in years past, but who are now struggling to get jobs. As the Times report explained, “The name refers to the box that job applicants are sometimes required to check if they have been convicted of a felony or a misdemeanor. Fourteen states and several dozen cities have passed laws, mostly in recent years, that generally require employers to postpone background checks until the later stages of the hiring process.”
In recent months, any credible package of national criminal-justice reforms is expected to include a “ban the box” provision – a policy Hillary Clinton explicitly endorsed over the weekend, satisfying reform proponents.
Today, MSNBC’s Ari Melber reported on President Obama helping take the lead on the issue, as well.
On Monday, President Obama is announcing a new order to reduce potential discrimination against former convicts in the hiring process for federal government employees.It is a step towards what many criminal justice reformers call “ban the box” – the effort to eliminate requirements that job applicants check a box on their applications if they have a criminal record. While the rule was once seen as a common sense way for employers to screen for criminal backgrounds, it has been increasingly criticized as a hurdle that fosters employment discrimination against former inmates, regardless of the severity of their offense or how long ago it occurred. Banning the box delays when employers learn of an applicant’s record.
Remember, President Obama was the first sitting president ever to visit a U.S. prison over the summer, and during his stop, he spoke to inmates about his interest in the policy.
As Ari’s report noted, the president told them, “If the disclosure of a criminal record happens later in a job application process, you’re more likely to be hired…. “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.”
There was a time in the not-too-distant past that presidential remarks like these would raise howls from the right about a “knee-jerk liberal” who’s “soft on crime” and wants to “coddle criminals.” But support for criminal-justice reforms is broader than at any time in recent memory, and at least so far, Obama is facing very little Republican pushback for his latest efforts.
Note, today’s announcement isn’t just rhetorical: going forward, the federal government’s hiring process will “delay inquiries into criminal history until later in the hiring process.”