Do you remember the last time you filled out a job application? It might have been a while, but you probably recall smugly skipping over the box marked, “Check here if you’ve been convicted of a criminal offense.” For millions of North Carolina workers this simple box is a barrier to getting even the most low-paying job, even once they’ve served their time and paid for their misdeeds.
In 13 states — and 66 counties and cities — this box is illegal and employers have been forced to leave it off of their job applications. This doesn’t prevent anyone from conducting background checks; it simply allows previously convicted workers a chance to make it one step further in the hiring process.
Proponents of the criminal history box claim it gives employers a fair view of candidates, and protects companies and organizations from liability if they hire criminals. What the box really does is introduce more discrimination early in the hiring process: more than half of North Carolinians who have been convicted of a crime are people of color. At least 22% are women. These people face having their application tossed in the garbage before they even get a job interview or callback.
Consider this: a woman convicted of theft in her late teens could be refused job interviews throughout her life. A man who was picked up on a minor drug offense as a college student could be overlooked for jobs he was highly qualified for just because of a single indiscretion.
The criminal system is designed to punish and rehabilitate those who break the law. Why must we continue to punish these people throughout their lifetimes?
In states and municipalities where the box is banned, employers are not allowed to ask about arrests or incarcerations until after the first interview. This gives job applicants a chance to be weighed on their merits and also to explain their prior records. This is essential to giving all workers a chance to succeed in society.
When those who have been arrested or jailed are turned away from even the lowest paying jobs, they face few options. If you can’t get a job at Wal-Mart, what’s next? Government assistance is not plentiful enough to sustain a family, or even a single person. For many, the lack of viable work can force them back into a life of crime.
Several groups are working to bring the Ban the Box movement to North Carolina. Among them are the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, Action NC, and the NC Justice Center. To join the fight against the box, reach out to one of these organizations, or call your representative to tell him or her how you feel about discriminating against workers who just want a fair shot.