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‘Banning the box’ is a step in the right direction for nonviolent offenders

‘Banning the box’ is a step in the right direction for nonviolent offenders

‘Banning the box’ is a step in the right direction for nonviolent offenders
August 14
13:19 2017

This October, all extensions of the University of California will “ban the box” potential hires must check if they have any prior convictions. In June, the governor of Louisiana signed a law that “banned the box” on student applications for higher education. This movement of banning the box has been going on for a few years and with colleges adopting the policy it is finally gaining momentum.

What would happen if Texas schools joined in?

It’s no secret our state has one of the highest incarceration rates in the country, ranking seventh according to The Sentencing Project. Surprisingly, Louisiana – the state that just passed a law helping convicts – is first. 

About 47 percent of inmates in state prisons are there for nonviolent crimes, according to the Prison Policy Initiative. A fact sheet from the U.S. Department of Justice also states “about two-thirds of nonviolent releases were racial or ethnic minorities” in 2004. Ban the box policies can provide jobs for these individuals.

In recent years, Texas has taken its own measures to ease the way for those with convictions. Cities like San Antonio and Austin have passed ban the box measures, and Dallas may be trying to follow suit. For Texas, these are progressive measures. For the 29 states that have already passed laws statewide, this is just sad.

States began passing these laws after 2012, when the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission approved waiting to ask about prior convictions in the hiring process in the hopes of shortening the unemployment disparity for black and Hispanic applicants. Governor Greg Abbott’s response was to sue the commission, stating this would, “violate state sovereignty and … endanger public safety.”

There’s no reason to believe banning the box will endanger the safety of college students or the public. Parents don’t need to worry. Universities will not be hiring murderers or pedophiles, but they can offer opportunities to men and women who are looking to make a living in a society that has marked them.

Paul Workman, a representative from Austin, agreed with Abbott. Workman said the federal government was interfering with “economic freedom by imposing so-called ban the box and fair chance hiring regulations on private employers.”

But since when is giving citizens a fair chance a bad thing?

If we continue to imprison citizens at a 14 percent higher rate than the national average, according to the National Institute of Corrections, we owe them a better chance at life after prison. If public universities like UNT adopted ban the box policies, thousands of jobs could now be available to people that previously had very slim pickings. According to Texas Higher Education Data, there are over 30 public universities in our state and about 50 community colleges. Higher education is one of the top employers in the state, with jobs ranging from professor to maintenance worker.

Granted, it must be said this policy is just a Band-Aid over a larger issue that stems from racism and prejudice. Economist Jennifer Doleac has stated banning the box just makes employers more cautious hiring black applicants because they assume they’re criminals. She says certificates of employability are the answer and advocates for complete honesty with employers.

Applicants at the University of California, and in states across the country, still undergo a background check. Perhaps the best solution, for the moment, is a mixture of both policies. It’s not possible to hide a criminal conviction, but banning the box can put more control in the applicant’s hand. They can choose when to detail their criminal record and explain why they’re still a great candidate. The policy cannot solve racism and the lack of training those imprisoned receive, but for the moment it can make a difference. Universities have always been progressive institutions where federal and state governments have failed, and perhaps they can make ban the box policies worth it.

There is no black and white line between who can be a criminal and who isn’t. Anyone is capable of something that can send them to prison, and anyone can make a mistake. When we deny them a chance to reform, though, we are the ones at fault.

Featured illustration Samuel Wiggins

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Amanda Dycus

Amanda Dycus

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