For 1.6 million North Carolinians, the worst part of job searching is not the interview, but the moment they drop off the application. Nearly every employment application contains a small box on the front page that reads, “Have you ever been convicted of a crime?” By marking that box, applicants with a criminal record, no matter how old or irrelevant the crime, are effectively checking away their chance at a job. To increase tax revenue and reduce the likelihood that formerly incarcerated people will return to a life of crime, North Carolina needs to ban that box.
Ban the box initiatives follow a simple logic: Study after study show that the most effective way to reduce crime is not to build more prisons or hire more police officers, but to provide more jobs. Formerly incarcerated people who cannot secure jobs are more than twice as likely to return to criminal activity than their employed counterparts. Additionally, more people with jobs means stronger family ties, greater economic security, and increased tax revenue. A Philadelphia study on Ban the Box reported that hiring 100 formerly incarcerated people would add $1.9 million to income tax revenue, $770,000 to sales tax revenue and save $2 million per year in criminal justice costs incurred through recidivism.
“Criminal record history acts as a tremendous barrier to people providing food, shelter and clothing for their families,” says Daryl Atkinson, senior attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, a group that spearheaded the Ban the Box movement in North Carolina. Atkinson is himself a formerly incarcerated person. “Ban the Box has been proven to help people get back to work and improve public safety because if people are able to take care of themselves, they don’t go back to crime. If we are serious about good allocation of tax dollars, we need to ensure that more people with records can get back to work and be productive members of society.”
Employers have a right to know if the person they are hiring has a criminal history. We wouldn’t want someone convicted of embezzlement to land a job as a comptroller. Ban the box doesn’t mean that employers lose the right to do a background check, it simply moves that step further down the job application process, after the applicant has had the opportunity to present his or her qualifications and skills.
“When you go to prison you are serving your debt to society, but the way the system is set up, that debt continues after you get out,” says Steven Manning, a Durham resident who served three and a half years in prison from 2001-2005 for possession of a firearm by a felon. “When companies deny you a job because of what you did in the past, that creates a revolving door back to prison. I can fill out 20-30 applications and not get a call back because of my record.”
The city and county of Durham, N.C., implemented Ban the Box initiatives in 2011 and 2012, respectively. Since then, the City of Durham has hired 700 times more people with criminal records than previous years. The County of Durham has seen a 300 percent increase. Importantly, not one of these new hires has been terminated due to illegal activity and neither has there been an increase in workplace crime. In fact 96 percent of applicants with criminal records were ultimately hired, even after background checks. This indicates that the majority of criminal history was determined to be irrelevant, either because the crime was unrelated to the job or occurred many years ago and the applicant has demonstrated rehabilitation.
It’s not often that we see an initiative that can reduce crime, strengthen families, and increase revenue, but Ban the Box accomplishes all those objectives and more. It’s about second chances and breaking the cycle of poverty and crime that grips so many generations. When one person secures a stable job, that person’s children are also more likely to finish school and gain secure employment.
With that in mind, the Second Chance Coalition, a statewide alliance of advocacy organizations, service providers, faith-based organizations, community leaders and interested citizens, have come to advocate for Ban the Box statewide.
“As a person who leads an organization that works with formerly incarcerated persons, I support the Ban the Box Initiative,” says Dennis Gaddy, executive director of Community Success Initiative, a non-profit that helps formerly incarcerated people reintegrate into society and a leader of the Second Chance Coalition. “Under the current system, when an individual checks the box, there are so many things we still don’t know. How long has it been since the crime was committed? What has that person accomplished since then? Ban the Box allows people a second chance at work — I’m for Second Chances!!”
To get involved in Ban the Box initiatives this year in North Carolina, visit ncjustice.org/?q=second-chance-alliance/nc-second-chance-alliance.: :
— Tessie Castillo is the communications and advocacy coordinator for the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition. Learn more at nchrc.org.