"ban the Box" - mayor seeks ban on asking applicants for past convictions

On NPR’s “Where We Live,” the guest yesterday was the mayor of New Haven, Connecticut. One of the things he said intrigued me: he’s trying to implement a policy he calls “Ban the Box,” which would forbid employment applications from asking “Are you a convicted felon?” or any variation thereof, or even asking applicants about their criminal history during job interviews

Under this policy, if an applicant is selected for hire, a criminal background check is done, and if the results are positive then the applicant would have to be granted a second interview to determine whether his particular circumstances make him unfit for the particular job.

He says this will give ex-felons a better chance at re-integration into society. In his view, one reason many felons re-offend is the lack of employment opportunities when released.

I’m torn. I agree that he’s right about ex-felons having a tough time.

But it seems to me that there’s no real improvement here: the facts about the ex-felon will still emerge, in most cases. And there’s a chance that the felony won’t show up on a records check.

The difference is in timing. Right now, employers can simply discard applications from felons, guaranteeing that even qualified felons won’t get the job. But under the new policy, a person’s criminal record will only be discussed after the employer has gone through all the trouble of interviewing for the position and selecting an applicant for the position. Rejecting someone because of their criminal record, then, would be more costly in terms of time and resources. And it will surely make a difference in many cases that the employer will now have seen for himself that the felon is qualified for the position on all grounds other than criminal records. As it stands, employers may not even get to see that much about the situation.


I think there is much that can be improved in this area - but real improvement has to come with the cooperation of employers and not by browbeating them with a burdensome law.

Besides, my first take on this is that it seems to be an unconstitutional restriction of freedom of association, as ex-cons aren’t anything of a protected class.

I don’t think the OP made it clear, this only applies to City of New Haven jobs, not private jobs within the city.

I live in NH, and I’m torn on it. I think people deserve a second chance, but the history of cronyism and corruption in the city, in all departments, leads me to think this will just lead to more of the same. Hiring of friends and family to jobs that they would normally be disqualified from over better applicants.

Not to mention blood in the streets. :wink:

Then what’s the point? All the mayor has to do is say “interview everybody, no matter what box is checked.” If the mayor is trying to convince everybody to do this, more power to him. But it sounds like that’s the extent of it. He can’t require it, only ask it.

If information about the issue and a request for voluntary cooperation were presented to employers I predict they’d say, “Let us think about it. Umm… no.”

If this is a direction we wish to go, I think it’s a good example of a needed law. And I do think it’s something we should do. As Frylock said, it’s the timing of the disclosure that’s at issue.

I would HOPE that there would be some “reality based judgement” used. You would certainly want to have some sort of check in place, in those areas where you have to - an example would be those jobs that require a high level security clearance. There are other (many other) jobs where it would be unreasonable, impractical, and counterproductive (and wouldn’t matter).

Maybe it’s a matter of what the past history was too. If someone got busted for joy riding or smoking pot as a teen, 40 or 50 years ago I wouldn’t be too worried. If he had a history of axe murders, Damn right I’d want to know.

Supposedly, society (in general) tells us that someone has paid his “debt to society”. He or she will still need to make a living somehow. You gotta eat. If you can’t “go legit” and have a job, you will find other, less admirable ways.

There is no “one size fits all” absolute answer. Some people will never “reform” and some will. You can’t go straight if nobody ever gives you a chance.

I agree that trying to make it possible for ex-felons to get jobs, if their crimes don’t conflict with the job, is a good goal.


Is the city really going to be running a criminal background check on every person that they want to hire, for every job? That seems like rather a burden, both on time and money.

Sometimes, though, the law has to come first. I’m not saying that this is like civil rights, but I’m betting most businesses had to be forced to treat people equally. It also seems to me like this is one of the benefits of federalism: New Haven can try this out and see if it works. If it doesn’t, little harm done, it can be taken off the books. If it does, then it can be implemented in other areas.

Me and my many of my friends own our own businesses. Hiring an ex-felon can destroy that business and ruin a lot of people’s lives. Hiring decisions are the most important ones that can be made in business, and the minimum cost of a hire, even a good one is about $20,000. If you have to do it over right away, some of that cost can be recouped, but not most of it. Three months later it’s the full cost again. Eliminating felon resumes should be a right.

That said, many minimum wage jobs are going to be okay for ex-felons because they don’t have access to customers and valuable business items.

That’s all well and good. You don’t want embezzlers in your accounting department. Still, there are jobs where it could still be “do-able”. The former embezzler might be applying to be a fork lift driver on a loading dock. He will never get a chance to “touch the money”. I can see where a small business would need to be more careful - their size means they are less able to absorb a potential loss. They have fewer options in placing a person - not having lots of different departments.

See my “one size fits all” comment.

But he doesn’t just want them to interview everyone, he wants them not to know about the criminal conviction during that interview.


Hiring a future felon can also destroy businesses and ruin people’s lives. :wink:

As someone who runs record checks all the time, I can tell you that they are horribly unreliable. I wouldn’t count on them for anything, they aren’t worth a warm bucket of spit.

As a policy for the city to go by in its hiring, fine. Let them choose to be ignorant and righteous. As a policy to be hypothetically expanded to enforce on everyone … no way in hell. Employers have the right to ask IMO.

Also, while our justice system is very flawed, isn’t there anything to be said for the deterrent value of “the box” and all those hurdles felons face? How’s that saying go? “If you can’t do the time (and-having-the-odds-stacked-against-you-forevermore), don’t do the crime.”

Btw, I would personally throw most of our drug laws out the window if I were king. So in my mind, “criminals” are people who actually cause harm to others, which doesn’t fairly define our current prison population. But that needs to be addressed directly, not by making it easier to reintegrate the vast amounts of people who never should have been imprisoned.

That’s true, but if you want to hire an accountant, and you aren’t allowed to ask, how do you know which are the embezzlers, and which are the drug smugglers who would do OK in accounting?



Under my “one size does not fit all” rule, depending on the position you fill, you might need a right to ask.

I don’t believe this can be a simple answer. A person, even a former felon (let’s say a one time offender) should be able to find work. However, an employer must be able to hire the people he needs and can trust. That employer is not just responsible for his own welfare, he is also responsible for the welfare of his company and for those employees that depend on him for their livelihood. My example of “need to know” was in cases where a security clearance is needed. I didn’t intend to limit it only to that. I wouldn’t want embezzlers in my accounting department, or dope fiends in my pharmacy, or a mad bomber in my fireworks factory if that’s what you are getting at. I think this might be a case where it is better to let the employer decide, and have enough information to decide, if push comes to shove - he is the one taking the chance.

I do know some employers do have that “check box”. They also have a space to state the when, where, what etc. Mister Businessman probably doesn’t care about some one time infraction from long long ago, especially a “minor” one. Mister Businessman will care if you are a “professional criminal” or a stone cold maniac.

Sometimes being “made” to think about something a bit more is a good thing?

Lots of states have substantial tax credits for hiring ex-cons. I think this approach is preferable.

You don’t want a felon, ex or future, driving a forklift. Too much can be stolen too quickly if he is unsupervised for the two minutes he loads $100,000 of goods on a strange truck. Perhaps washing dishes.