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International Criminal Justice Themes

Ban The Box?
What It Really Means For Job Applicants 
with a Criminal History
By R.L. Pelshaw – Guest Blogger 

I’m ashamed to say that as an employer, before becoming a felon, I refused to hire anyone with a criminal record, regardless what the position was. It’s amazing what serving a prison sentence does to your perspective!

President Obama recently announced a series of actions he is taking to reform criminal justice. This includes an Executive Order he is signing to “ban the box” on most federal job applications. In his announcement, President Obama states that someone who has paid their debt to society should have a chance to rebuild their lives. Yet we still have a society with almost 80% recidivism, and somewhere around 100 million Americans with a criminal record.

Recidivism is a crisis of gargantuan proportions. Over 89% of all people recidivating are unemployed when they are re-arrested.  Employers that refuse to hire felons could be contributing to higher crime and recidivism rates, when someone returns to crime if they cannot find a decent job or start their own business. Because many felons cannot find adequate work, and many more want to own their own business, I wrote the book “Illegal to Legal: Business Success for (ex) Criminals” to give the quick practical steps to starting a successful business. In prison, I learned that the same hustle that can get someone arrested could also give them a new life, if they know the way to go.

“Ban the box” means that the criminal history question is now being removed from federal job applications. That’s progress, but don’t celebrate yet. This is what that means to you, and you will agree, there is still a long way to go.

Employers can still ask about criminal history, it is just illegal now to include it on the job application for most federal jobs, as well as jobs in numerous states and cities. Employers will still ask about criminal history, and the job applicant needs to have a short and convincing answer prepared if they wish to be hired.

I can tell you from my own experience that reentry is harder to survive than serving time. Being able to make a legitimate living is one of the most important keys to successful reentry, and staying out of prison. Several groups nationally have pushed for “ban the box,” but we won’t see lasting impact on recidivism until one of two things happen. First, we must educate employers on the bottom-line benefits, and the free resources and protections available to them when they hire ex-felons. This doesn’t require a new agency, just citizens that are willing to talk to business owners and hiring managers about the benefits of hiring felons and the costs of not hiring them.

Second, we need to provide a means to help ex-felons start their own businesses. A criminal history doesn’t stop someone from starting his or her own business. New businesses would greatly help our economy, strengthen our nation, and keep many felons from recidivating.  Felon-owned business could provide jobs to other felons, and really show society that we are productive human beings with a lot to offer.

While banning the box helps, all it does is push back when in the hiring process when an employer will ask about criminal history. Ban the Box will help if the applicant uses it as an opportunity to sell themselves strongly enough for that employer to hire them despite having a criminal past.

RL Pelshaw is a successful real estate developer, consultant, public speaker, author, and former felon.  He is the founder of the National Hire Ex-Felons Campaign, and is the author of “Illegal to Legal: Business Success for (ex) Criminals.”
Comments From Social Media:
Alba Johnson.
“This article is right on point. I rehabilitated offenders for half of my career and placed many in jobs. Some were even convicted murderers. This was a challenge that most don’t want to take on. Ex-offenders will tell you that they feel discriminated against and eventually give up trying. It is important for them to learn the skill of “how to answer the criminal background question and still land the job”. It’s equally important to educate employers on the many tax credits available for hiring ex-offenders, as well as the federal bonding programs that protect the employers’ interests when hiring high risk job candidates. The most difficult to place, in my opinion, are registered sex offenders. Thank you for all the awareness you provide regarding this subject.”

Nancy Mattox.“As a CEO for 25 years at a financial institution, I had more than my fair share of potential employee that were great people and could not be hired because of the BOX! I agree the box should be banned……. Wishing it would help. It is a start. The price SHOULD be forever! “

Todd Glassey.“Release processes also change from State to State and that is something likely that the Feds need to set a standard for (much to the State’s chagrin no doubt although they could head the Feds off if they did a NCSL thingee and implemented a cross Governor’s committee agreement from the States as a whole here).” 

Thomas Hicks (I0K Plus). “As a paralegal in CT, I have worked with many people coming out of prison and many have been told the exact opposite by parole and probation officers. Maybe Mr. Semple needs to check the procedures of those departments. Too many come out with every parole restriction option checked regardless of whether it related to their crimes or not which essentially hamstrings them when it comes to employment and other opportunities.” 

Willy The Master Builder. “BTW – Many innocent people are made to plea Just Because – too much power and abuse” 



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