New ‘Ban the Box’ Bill Would Improve Access to Federal Jobs for Youth With Records

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WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of House and Senate lawmakers wants to ease the job application process for people with criminal histories.

The Fair Chance To Compete for Jobs Act of 2015 would prohibit federal agencies and contractors from asking about a job applicant’s criminal history until a conditional offer of employment is received.

The goal is to make sure employers don’t pass over qualified candidates because of the stigma of a past conviction.

“This commonsense legislation will give those leaving the criminal justice system a fair chance to turn their lives around, and to contribute to our economy in a meaningful way,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., in a news release. Cummings is a lead sponsor of the legislation introduced Thursday with Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.

hub_arrow_2-01Laws that affect when an employer can ask questions about an applicant’s criminal history are commonly referred to as “ban the box” provisions.

Ban-the-box legislation matters for children and teenagers who are tried in criminal court and are subject to all the consequences any adult faces, such as limits on access to public housing or student loans, depending on their crime.

The legislation can also affect young people who are found delinquent in juvenile court, depending on where they live or how the question on a form is asked, said Riya Shah, a supervising attorney at the Juvenile Law Center, a nonprofit, public interest law firm.

[Related: Georgia First Southern State to ‘Ban the Box’ for Government Jobs]

Some states consider a finding of delinquency the same as a finding of guilty. Or, if an employer asks, “Have you ever been arrested,” an applicant may have to answer yes even though he or she was never charged or found guilty or delinquent.

The legislation is a significant step forward for advocates of ban the box reforms, Shah said.

“It’s a big statement from the federal government acknowledging that people have the capacity to reform,” she said.

More than 100 cities and counties and 18 states have “ban the box” provisions on the books, according to the National Employment Law Project, a supporter of the proposed legislation.  Some states and municipalities also have extended the ban to private employers.

Shah said successful ban the box legislation isn’t the final word on the problems job applicants can face when asked about their arrest or criminal history. Those disclosures can be difficult even when they come further along in the hiring process, she said.

“You may not have to check the box but you may have to have the conversation at a later time,” she said.

The proposed Fair Chance Act includes exceptions for positions related to law enforcement and national security, those that require access to classified information and those that legally require access to an applicant’s criminal history.

The legislation also would require a federal report on employment statistics of formerly incarcerated people.

Co-sponsors of the bill are Sens. Ron Johnson, R-Wis.; Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis.; Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio; and Joni Ernst, R-Iowa; Reps. Darrell Issa, R-Calif.; Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas; Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore.; Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-N.J.; Cedric Richmond, D-La.; John Conyers, D-Mich., and Bobby Scott, D-Va.

The lawmakers said as many as 70 million people with criminal histories may face barriers to employment.

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