To ban the box or not to ban the box. That is the question.

Ban the Box

Fair Chance Hiring legislation is a hot topic right now. Banning the box refers to the box on the job application that asks if a candidate has a criminal background. The question on the application for employment is not standard and examples include: “have you ever been convicted of a felony” to “have you been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor in the last 7 years” to “have you thought about doing something that would land you in jail since the first Star Wars was actually the first Star Wars and not the fourth in a series of six”.

There is federal banning the box legislation and state legislation but the overarching objective is the same – remove barriers to employment for applicants with criminal backgrounds by hamstringing businesses. By late 2013, 52 municipalities and 10 states had banned the box for government applications and for some private contractors, and 7 states have enacted ban the box laws in the private sector. Some companies like Target and Koch Industries banned the box on their own applications independent of any legislation requiring them to do so.

To Ban the Box

The following information was taken from an article dated May 19, 2016 on the Brennan Center for Justice website:

In April, the federal government proposed a rule to ban “the box” — the question that asks applicants to disclose whether they’ve been convicted of a crime — on applications for federal employment. The rule will be finalized after a 60-day comment period.  Earlier this month, the Brennan Center joined 134 allied organizations on a letter to President Barack Obama, asking him to “ban the box” on job applications for federal contracting positions. These moves parallel the final recommendation in the Brennan Center report calling for such action.

Such a decision would bring 40 million jobs within reach of people with criminal convictions. In today’s tough job market, a checked box on an employment application often offers employers a simple method to narrow down saturated applicant pools. Unfortunately, this creates significant barriers to former prisoners getting jobs, no matter their qualifications. One study found that employers were 50 percent less likely to offer interviews to white applicants with criminal records than those without them. The effect was even more significant for African Americans, who were 64 percent less likely to be interviewed if they had a criminal record.

Defining applicants by their past mistakes, without considering their qualifications and potential, is unjust and unnecessary. Having served their prescribed sentences, former prisoners have repaid their debt to society. Yet the stigma of their criminal conviction continues to punish them and, in many ways, permanently relegate them to a second-class status.

Okay. Fine. There’s some element of rationale here if we assume that the candidate is at least equally, if not more, qualified for the position than other applicants. Otherwise, it’s fair to assume that the applicant was cut for reasons pertaining to lack of skills or a 25-year gap in employment, two of many reasonable vetting methods.

It usually pains me to side with anything the Liberal administration supports because it’s usually part and parcel of some dark agenda to implode the galaxy but if we serve Jesus, we should be willing to entertain the thoughtfulness behind this movement and some other criminal justice reform ideas.

Or Not to Ban the Box

This bill and similar state bills tell employers how to conduct their hiring process. It includes penalties and fines for violating the process. The bill may also create false expectations for a job applicant. Some argue that the legislation only pushes back the point in the interview process where the employer can ask about a criminal history and pull a background report. The end result may be the same, no job offer, but now both the applicant and the employer have wasted time and are frustrated.

The banning the box movement suggests that there is a perception that businesses try to avoid hiring folks with criminal backgrounds simply because they have criminal backgrounds. While this may be true for some, another explanation is that businesses try to avoid hiring folks who have a proven track record of bad decisions and poor judgment. Those traits are not typically found in top employees. Anyone who has ever owned a business or leads one knows that it’s hard to grow a company with a crew of employees lacking character. Sometimes even one of these employees can take down the entire team. This “box” is a reasonable indicator of character-at-a-glance.

Furthermore, perpetual bad decisions and poor judgement are not without cause. So this critical box on the application reveals deeper potential challenges that plague these employees such as addictions, anger issues, trust issues, problems with authority…and those things are not without cause such as childhood trauma, abuse, rejection, abandonment, etc. There are layers of brokenness beneath the surface of these candidates and they tend to be high maintenance employees. These things do not make bad people, but rather lousy employees. Generally speaking, of course.

What was the Question

So what do we do? One thing we can do is let the free market fix this. If there is a need, there is a solution. Employers need good employees. The solution is to provide that product to them. Offenders who have served their time need jobs. The solution is to teach them how to be good employees. I’m talking about a work ethic, not a skill set. We can spend billions of tax dollars to train inmates to weld but if they can’t set an alarm and wake up to it, or their addiction effects their work, they’re not an asset to a company upon release. The good news, though, is that this might be the first time in the history of the planet that the playing field is as level as it is for job candidates with criminal backgrounds. We live in a nation of mind-numbing entitlement and there is an increasing number of employees that have no criminal background, but no work ethic, either.

Capitalism is a beautiful thing. It forces competition. Competition forces businesses to continually make their product better and at the same time, keep prices low for customers. If a for-profit company fails to deliver what they promise, they can’t just ask for more donations or tax dollars through grants. Rather, they are forced to figure out what adjustments to make in order to stay in business and grow.

How do we apply this here? The product in this case is a good employee with a criminal background. The government employs millions of people and clearly has a heart for making sure former offenders are employed. We need a legislator to sponsor a bill at the federal level that requires the government to hire from this candidate pool and mandate that they contract with a for-profit, temp-to-hire staffing company that specializes in developing and supporting these employees.

The government stating that they have banned the box is one thing, but actually employing former murderers, former drug dealers, former gang members and those who have the most difficult time finding work is another thing entirely.  What about the stigma? Exactly. Private businesses have the same concern. But that doesn’t seem to be a consideration for the government when they are making laws that require businesses to hire these candidates.

The staffing companies competing for government contracts will have to have a business proposition that stands out. One might have an addictions therapist on staff and a motivational training piece for all employees. Another company may propose to recruit from the government’s own programs, making a case to increase the ROI of tax dollars spent to fund the programs. The companies will have to have a well thought out vetting process or they will go bankrupt within months of opening their doors for business. Once the employee has proved him/herself to be a top notch employee, the employee is converted to the permanent payroll of the government and eligible for all of the benefits of being a public servant.

This solution is a win for all parties – the government gets great employees and they meet the goals of their own legislation; the private sector grows; the former offender obtains quality employment and support for their unique needs; recidivism is reduced and poverty is chiseled away and communities are safer. No one loses. Ironically, this solution is based on highlighting the background of a bad-decision-maker-turned-contributor, rather than being ashamed of it and hiding it.

Lastly, another thing we can do is just genuinely love, encourage and forgive others. We’re all cracked but some people are shattered into a bazillion tiny pieces. You cannot even begin to imagine what happened to some of these people when they were children. If they can set an alarm and get up to it, they have earned a trophy. Let’s cut each other some slack now and again. Glory be to God.

Jane Northrup

Jane Northrup is a Christian, constitutional, conservative spitfire with a burning passion for helping others. She is an unapologetic capitalist and non-conformist and is recognized for her energy and enthusiasm . She is the founder and owner of Authority Staffing, the first for-profit staffing company in America specializing in prisoner reentry, and featured in the 2016 May/June edition of Ministry Today magazine as 1 of 21 Gospel driven businesses. Jane is the author of Fly by Faith on the Wings of Serving Others – a Former Offender’s Guide to Job Search Strategies and Retention, available for purchase on She is involved in prison ministry and she is passionate about leading people to freedom from poverty and government slavery through hard work, determination and faith in Jesus Christ. Jane has a bachelor's degree from CSU in Fort Collins, Colorado, where she currently resides.