If Assembly Bill 1831 passes the California State Assembly, it will become the latest victory in a nationwide effort to “ban the box.” The “box” refers to the place on job applications which asks applicants to state their criminal history information.
The bill, sponsored by California State Assembly member Roger Dickinson (D-Sacramento) and currently in committee, states that a California city or county or a city or county agency may not ask an applicant’s criminal history on the original application form. Once the government or local agency determines that the applicant meets the qualifications for the job, however, they can consider an applicant’s criminal history, At that point the applicant has made it past the original screening and has a better chance of being considered for the position.
This act would help remove some of the barriers to employment for the one in four adult Californians who have been arrested or convicted. It follows the action of the California State Personnel Board, which, in June 2010 under Governor Schwarzenegger, removed “the box” from the application form for California state jobs.
California’s action will put it at the forefront of a bi-partisan movement across the nation to begin to remove the barriers keeping ex-offenders from becoming employed and, in the end, help reduce recidivism rates.
California has joined five other states in these efforts to delay inquiries into an individual’s criminal record during the employment application process. In Connecticut and New Mexico, the inquiry delay applies to state personnel and licensing; and in Minnesota it applies to all public employment. Hawaii and Massachusetts have taken the most progressive steps; in those states, the delay applies to all public and private employment.
In addition to the California State Personnel Board, several California cities and counties have also instituted measures to delay inquiry. These are Alameda County, San Francisco County and the cities of Berkeley, East Palo Alto, Oakland, Richmond, San Francisco, Compton and San Diego.
More than 30 cities and counties in other parts of the U.S. that have adopted fair hiring policies include New York City; Austin, Tex.; Baltimore; Boston; Chicago; Cincinnati; Cleveland; Jacksonville, Fla.; Memphis, Tenn.; Minneapolis; New Haven, Conn.; Providence, R.I.; Philadelphia, Penn.; St. Paul, Minn.; Seattle; and Worcester, Mass.
Banning the box is not only the equitable thing to do, but it will offer employers a wider pool of qualified applicants. In the February 2012 issue of HR Magazine, Mark Washington, human resources director for the city of Austin, Texas, said that since the city adopted a policy to delay inquiry into applicants’ criminal histories, more qualified candidates with criminal backgrounds – candidates who previously may have opted against completing the application due to the background questions – have applied. “There are extremely talented and qualified people who happen to be ex-offenders,” Washington said. “They are just as productive as people who do not have criminal records.”