OPINION: ‘Ban the Box’ a Bad Idea

When criminals who are sentenced to prison time finally leave, they often wind up back in prison not too long after their release, and when one looks at the facts, it’s not hard to tell why. Even if one doesn’t fall back into a pattern of criminal behavior, life after a felony conviction can be quite difficult – trust takes a long time to build up, and when that trust has already been broken (intentionally or not) the process only takes longer and longer, making it all too easy for a former convicted felon to fall into a vicious cycle of crime.

The idea of “Ban the Box” is simple: Ban the “conviction history” check box on employee application forms in order to allow people who have been convicted a second chance. A total of 21 states have already implemented “Ban the Box” legislation, including California, Colorado, New York, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Ohio.

While the intentions behind the measure are good enough, the actual measure itself is little more than an ineffective tradeoff between the employees and the employers – employers should know whether the people they are interviewing have been convicted at the beginning of the employment process. Jobs such as emergency services (police, EMS, firefighting departments) all require people to be trustworthy, and most businesses require employees to be trustworthy too. Without the ability to know someone’s criminal records, it’s much harder for employers to know who to trust and employ.

One thing of note is that the “Ban the Box” movement only applies so far to jobs, not things such renting housing or residences, meaning that convicted felons still have to divulge their records to landlords if they want to rent a property – for security reasons similar to why criminal record was previously checked. If the property were turned into a criminal hideout or a crack den, for instance, the landlord of the property could be held responsible for failing to keep their property in good hands.

With the “Ban the Box” movement in place for jobs, employers can no longer be held responsible for their own employees if their employee does something like scam customers or steal from the business, because they haven’t known about the employee’s criminal history/criminal record and thus known that the employee had a history of criminal actions. While the “Ban the Box” legislation is aimed at allowing people a second chance, there’s still the few people who can’t be trusted not to take advantage of their fellow man. Businesses would land in a huge scandal if one of their employees committed a criminal act after they had already been convicted of a felony in the past, but now, they can genuinely claim no prior knowledge of a criminal background, as they aren’t able to ask for a criminal record.

And finally, the “Ban the Box” legislation is mandatory, which is nothing less than the government essentially forcing people to run their businesses in a certain manner with regards to how they hire their people, certainly not the way our economic system works. I don’t know how this system is going to be enforced, but if it’s being enforced at all, it’s also being forced. Regulations on certain things such as greenhouse gas emissions or equipment safety standards are certainly helpful – as they directly concern the welfare of the workers – but implementing policies such as not being able to ask for a criminal record is essentially doing a job that businesses don’t need done – the businesses themselves can decide whether or not to hire an employee.

All in all, the “Ban the Box” movement, while well-intentioned, isn’t the best solution to prevent recidivism. It forcibly removes the business’s responsibility of making sure employees are trustworthy without being able to be sure that a worker can be trusted. Employers have the freedom to choose who to hire or who not to hire, and the government shouldn’t be making this choice harder for them, even if it’s for the sake of a second chance.