Ex­offenders are told by society to make positive changes upon release in hopes of bettering their lives and the lives of those around them. Living, thriving and surviving as a supposed “free” ex­convict, ex-­offender, ex-­felon or whatever the label is, is very difficult to do when no one wants to give a second chance to a person even with seriously valuable skill sets, especially in this economy.

   What happens when more than qualified ex­offenders are turned down by companies, organizations, and sometimes entire professions due to a past conviction? Ex­convicts often resort back to criminal activities in order to make money to take care of themselves and/or their families. Lack of job opportunities is a direct result of a high recidivism rate (rate at which felons keep going in and out of prison). Though some former felons can get their records expunged, they still have to “check the box” on a job application asking “Have you ever been convicted of a felony?”

   A growing number of U.S. citizens have criminal records because of tougher sentencing laws, especially for non­violent drug crimes. The U.S. has the largest prison population in the world per capita and African-­Americans make up about half of the prison population, although they are only 13 percent of the U.S. population. One reason more minorities are incarcerated may be that the unemployment rate for blacks in this country is double the usual rate.

What is Ban the Box?

   Ban the Box is an international civil rights campaign for ex­offenders (people with felonies, who have been incarcerated) that is trying to persuade employers to remove the check box asking if applicants have a criminal record, a felony or have ever been convicted of a crime or any similar questions. Ban the Box wants to educate the public about the stigma of a criminal record and the real consequences to the United States society of depriving millions of Americans with past convictions of economic stability.

   The Ban the Box movement began in 1998. Hawaii was the first state to adopt the Ban the Box policy. In 2013, four states passed legislation with a fifth banning the box through an executive order. Ten states that have adopted the ban the box policies are California (2013, 2010), Colorado (2012), Connecticut (2010), Hawaii (1998), Illinois (2013), Maryland (2013), Massachusetts (2010), Minnesota (2013, 2009), New Mexico (2010), and Rhode Island (2013).

   “Federally, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 2012 endorsed ban­the­box as a best practice in its guidance for employment decisions considering arrests and convictions,” writes the National Employment Law Project (NELP), an organization documenting Ban the Box efforts, in their February 2014 report.

   By October 2013, 52 municipalities had “Ban the Box” legislation in place for government job applications and some private contractors. Many ordinances exempt applications for sensitive job positions like working with children. Target Corporation “banned the box” last year as well. In the United Kingdom, a corporate social responsibility charity called “Business in the Community” also launched a Ban the Box campaign in October 2013.

Franklin County banned the box

  Marilyn Brown, President of the Franklin County Board of Commissioners, has been a strong advocate and champion for the Ban the Box concept. She was instrumental in implementing it county­wide via resolution 457­12, adopted June 19, 2012. The vote was 2­0 (Commissioners John O’Grady and Brown voting yes, Paula Brooks absent.)

   That resolution states that the Director of The Department of Human Resources after review by the County Administrator, may amend the On-­Line Employment Application to conform with changes in law and hiring practices. This language allowed the Human Resources Director to implement best practices, which immediately included removing the box asking about criminal history.

   “It’s important that we allow ex­offenders and returning residents to regain meaningful jobs and move ahead with their lives,” said Brown. “My office is taking a leading role in reentry efforts, and the cornerstone of successful re-entry and re-integration is the ability to have a job and provide for your family. If we’re not going to give formerly ­incarcerated people a chance to succeed, we might as well keep them locked up forever.”

   This is not to say that the County no longer does background checks – in fact, every County employee is subject to background check at the time a job is offered. However, the elimination of the check box prevents the County from “screening out” those with former incarcerations at the application or first interview level. Hiring recommendations can then be made by the departments without the prejudice inherent in knowing of an applicant’s past conviction.

   Once a position is offered, a background check is run and the results shared with senior management in the hiring department, as well as Human Resources, County Administration and the Commissioners.

As long as information on the background check is not egregious or directly germane to the position, it does not disqualify an applicant from employment.

   Several ex­-offenders now working in County positions are making living wages with benefits, and no disciplinary actions have been recorded against any of them since their hiring.

   “Information discovered on a background check should be used as one of many factors in determining whether someone is a good fit for a job – not as a punitive tool to immediately screen out people who often times turn out to be among our very best employees,” Brown asserted.

Next Step for Ban the Box?

   Surprisingly, four major Ohio cities have already enacted Ban the Box legislation. Cleveland, Cincinnati, Canton and Massillon have banned the box for all their city employee applications. A movement is currently afoot in Columbus to Ban the Box.

   According to NELP, “Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Rhode Island have banned the box for private employers, which many advocates embrace as the next step in the evolution of these policies.” If the Columbus effort is successful, the next step could be for Ohioans to advocate similar legislation for the whole state.

  The organization that started a grassroots Ban the Box campaign ( reports that the EEOC is beginning to prosecute employers that refuse to hire felons since a blanket ban by a company violates the “individualized assessment” of the circumstances of an job applicant’s past convictions, and cites the Pepsi case. In 2012, Pepsi Beverages paid $3.13 million and was required to provide job offers and training to African-­American job applicants “because the EEOC ruled that Pepsi’s use of background checks discriminated based on race,” states The website also points out that the Ban the Box legislation in New Jersey includes a prohibition on housing discrimination for people with prior convictions.

  Some prisoner advocates appreciate the Ban the Box movement, but believe that after a certain amount of time that an ex­convict stays out of prison, perhaps three to five years, ideally their charges should be cleared from their record. This would take another activist movement and additional legislation. In the meantime, banning the box can give people who have officially served time for a crime a second chance. As more ex­offenders are given job opportunities and achieve employment success, the result may very well improve the socioeconomic status and safety of our communities, as well as chip away at the stigma surrounding incarceration.

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