Nineteen states and more than 100 cities across the U.S. have taken an easy and very basic step toward fairness for people convicted of crimes — a step that’s also sound economic and business policy.
Texas is not among them, but it should be.
The “ban the box” movement is also promoted as “fair-chance” hiring. It asks employers, primarily government agencies, to remove the question on their job applications that asks applicants whether they have ever been convicted of a crime.
That’s all there is to it. There’s no request to stop criminal background checks, not even a plea to hire ex-offenders — although plenty of organizations put forward solid reasons to consider hiring qualified people despite their criminal records.
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It helps those who are really trying to put their criminal convictions behind them to make it just one extra step in the hiring process.
Even in today’s improving economy, it’s common for multiple applicants — dozens, even — to line up for one job opening. Some hiring managers see a criminal conviction box checked and immediately remove that application from consideration.
The ex-offender never has a chance to present a case for what they can do. The hiring manager never even knows how long ago the conviction was or what it was for, never considers the applicant’s qualifications, never sees the possibilities.
Under ban-the-box policies, inquiries about a criminal record happen later in the hiring process, through a formal criminal background check or even during an interview.
On Nov. 2, President Barack Obama ordered federal agencies to ban the box when hiring.
The Texas House earlier this year passed a ban-the-box bill focused on hiring at state agencies. The bill, HB 548, was authored by state Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas.
Its passage on a 67-62 vote came late in the legislative session. The bill went to the Senate, where it died in committee without a hearing.
Texas spends more than $3.3 billion a year to operate the Department of Criminal Justice, which includes $2.7 billion a year to incarcerate criminals, more than $310 million a year to operate “diversion” programs aimed at keeping convicted offenders out of prison and $186 million a year to run parole programs.
Rehabilitating offenders and getting them to re-enter society is a top priority. Certainly getting a job is a big part of that.
Ban-the-box initiatives cost nothing.
The National Employment Law Project is the primary advocate of these initiatives. Texas and its local governments should listen.